Synergy between development and production makes E.D.&A. a textbook example of the Factory of the Future | Agoria

Synergy between development and production makes E.D.&A. a textbook example of the Factory of the Future

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Published on 10/05/21 by Sibylle Dechamps
E.D.&A. is one of the few companies to have won the Factory of the Future award twice already. What is remarkable about E.D.&A. is that, despite all the trends, they built their own production facility and were thus able to bring volume back to Belgium. We had a talk with CEO Gert D'Handschotter about this important step and their continuous strive for innovation.

Own production facility forms the basis

"We were founded in 1981 as a development company at the time, but our scope has since broadened gradually and an important production pillar has been added. Our customers are mainly active mainly in machinery and equipment construction. If they want to bring a new product onto the market, they come to us to provide the intelligence in their device through our electronics. Today, this almost always has to be connected with the internet (IoT), and this is something we were strong at right from the start." 

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"We used to outsource production to companies in Belgium, Romania and China. After a thorough research phase, at the end of 2011 we decided to take that process into our own hands. We had noticed that some of our suppliers were experiencing difficulties during the credit crisis in 2008-2009. We then asked ourselves whether we would not be better off with in-house production in the long run. In addition to this strategic choice, there were all sorts of other advantages: better environmental care, better quality, greater speed and also lower production costs." 

"As a result, we work a lot cheaper, mainly due to 2 pillars: first, the development of a very high-quality and cleverly developed product and second, a production facility that works cost-effectively thanks to the high degree of automation. These two factors are also related, because you can develop your product so that it can be easily produced and tested also. This combination of development and production enabled us to reduce costs. And that has paid off, because we notice that we can now also bring in larger series." 

First award in 2016 

"That brand new production facility led somewhat unwittingly to our first Factory of the Future award in 2016. We had already been in contact with Agoria, among others, since 2010 for guidance on our production project. We then visited several manufacturing companies from very diverse sectors together. We kept our eyes peeled everywhere, talked to the people on site and considered to what extent their ideas could also be of interest to us. When Agoria presented the first Awards to four companies in 2015, Newtec was one of the winners in the sector. That was an incentive for us to apply for the first audit, not so much in order to get the label at once, but mainly to learn a lot from it ourselves. In retrospect, it turned out that both objectives were met. For example, we learned a lot about robotics. We were not very advanced in that area yet, so the audit in 2016 was really the starting point for us to take the necessary actions on that front. You can see this development continuing nicely towards our next certification in 2019. That audit is a bit tougher, because you still have to show what steps you have taken after your first certification."  

How is production structured ?

The departments responsible for development, testing and production sit down together as early as in the development phase to see how the products can be tested and produced efficiently. This synergy is essential as I see it. It also ensures that the barriers between the departments are removed.” 

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"In the production phase, we will assemble the purchased printed circuit boards with the components via various robots, cobots and pick and place robots. The placement of components is thereby almost completely automated and we can develop our competitive advantage further. There are also machines that are custom-made and therefore unique in the world. Furthermore, we focus a great deal of attention on testing the products. We want to verify every step because if we were to discover a fault only after the production of a batch, this would lead to considerable costs." 

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"We are also constantly assessing what can still be done more efficiently in our process. For example, we are currently looking into how we can optimize the logistics for production further using AGVs. Some lines can operate autonomously from 6:00 am to 2:00 am at present. An AGV could be the missing link in the hours in between so we could produce autonomously 24 hours a day."

"Our focus on automation does not lead to fewer employees – quite the contrary. It has just enabled us to take on more workload. Our workforce has only grown along with the company in recent years. What has changed in that respect, however, is a different focus during recruitment. We now select more on qualities such as flexibility, openness to change and so on." 

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Digital instructions

E.D.&A. is a pioneer in the true sense of the word for some techniques. Digital instructions are a sterling example. The company has been working with this technique since 2008. D'Handschotter: "We put out our feelers everywhere. In addition to the Factories of the Future group, we are also members of the Lean/Lead group. We work together with Imec, go to trade fairs and pay visits to companies. So we pick up on things quickly. We also have the great advantage that our engineers can programme themselves. This makes implementing such concepts a lot easier. We also do this for machines that are not fitted with a standard control system. We are perfectly capable of developing them ourselves. 

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Communication the customers viewed differently

"In the past, we were only expected to deliver a printed circuit board, but today there are additional important requirements: a multilingual manual, a certain type of packaging, built into an enclosure, specific cable connections, IoT functions, etc. The ecological footprint is also becoming increasingly more important, especially in Scandinavia. This of course leads to additional administration and communication with customers, which takes up a lot of time and sometimes causes frustration: calls, emails, meetings, you name it. For me, a Factory of the Future looks beyond technology. That is why we give a number of customers a direct insight into our process and vice versa. We know what they produce, they know about us. This way, we can automatically synchronize our schedules and the many phone calls and e-mails we receive become superfluous. That too is a Factory of the Future." 

 

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