Humans remain a key link in Industry 4.0

4 trends for the future

Landing in the “valley of death” is a huge pitfall in research. Promising ideas often get bogged down in the research phase, and never get translated into industrial production. Solving this problem requires a strong bridge between universities, which focus on basic research, and companies that can make use of the results. Flanders Make bridges this gap by adding an extra research link. The organization ensures that good ideas which can create industrial value are actually implemented.

Flanders Make has grown into the biggest player in Industry 4.0 and its associated digital transformation in Flanders. Because it is anchored in Flemish universities, its experts keep their finger on the pulse of new developments in the sector. No wonder that CEO Dirk Torfs has a clear view of the trends for the future. Here, he shares four important developments, which Flanders Make is committed to pursuing.


Dirk Torfs

Dirk Torfs - CEO Flanders Make

Industry 4.0 is transversal

cooperation human robot

“A first trend is smart products and production systems. Smart means that you use sensors to generate data and software to turn the data into reliable and actionable knowledge.

Industry 4.0 is highly transversal. The 163 members of Flanders Make belong to very different sectors, from manufacturing industry to logistics, from pharma to food. Solutions developed in one sector can also be used in other sectors. Hence, we talk about a solution pull system instead of a research push system. We don’t develop new business models ourselves, but we do develop technologies that enable the implementation of new business models, for example “as-a-service” models.

The pandemic threw up a good example. We created COVID solutions from applications that had been developed for entirely different purposes. For instance, we measure distances for Automated Guided Vehicles: logistics vehicles that drive around factories. This measuring methods proved useful in small devices that we developed for social distancing during corona. This way, we could make people aware that they were standing too close to their colleagues.”

Getting more done thanks to digital instructions

“A second trend is the increasing importance of flexible and agile production, in the context of so-called high mix–low volume. Ever more customers are demanding customized products; and at the same time a wide range of new products is emerging. In order to be able to serve customers quickly, these products must be produced in small, changing volumes, instead of large mass production. In Flanders, we succeed in doing this in a competitive manner.

For employees in the manufacturing industry, this high mix–low volume means that they are always having to make new products. Instead of writing heavy operating manuals, we develop digital instructions. People see drawings on a tablet, which explain what they need to do. These digital instructions – which take into account employees’ level of experience and capabilities – simplify the work and increase convenience, so that employees succeed in getting more done than would otherwise be possible. For this reason, we’re also focusing on the use of cobots: robots that work together with humans. How can we optimally divide the tasks between machine and human in order to achieve a more flexible production environment?”


10 years older in 60 days

"We talk about a solution pull  system instead of a researchpush system.”

“Humans are the third trend: operator 4.0. They remain a key link in production, because they ensure agility and flexibility. Flanders is taking the lead, internationally, in the interaction between human and machine. We’re combining technologies around data processing with physical knowledge of machines. Additionally, we use AI technologies to make machines even more efficient. We also excel at converting knowledge into a model, which we can then simulate in order to produce a top product. This is how we create connected, smart products that provide data, on the basis of which, well-founded, reliable, and reproducible decisions are taken.

A fourth trend is sustainability. This is not only about green and CO2-neutral production, but also about the circular economy: developing; making; maintaining; and reusing products. You can also promote reuse by deploying sensors and measuring data such as energy use, speed, wear, and the resolution of defects. By working with this data, you can create less waste.

Flanders offers excellent services in the field of sustainability testing. At Flanders Make, we test passenger vehicles for, among others, Bentley, Toyota, McLaren, and BMW. For example, in just sixty days, we can make a vehicle ten years older with a road and sunlight simulator in a climate chamber. The car undergoes an accelerated test programme, which exposes it to all the loads that occur in real driving conditions. All of this promotes product quality in a way that is time and cost efficient for the customer. Flanders is truly unique in this respect.”

auto in klimaatkamer
Industry 4.0

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