Dirk Torfs

"Flanders Make is now more than ever the contact person for the Flemish and European industry."

"Flanders Make looks back on a successful 2018, both for our own organisation and the Flemish manufacturing industry as a whole. Companies performed well, often expanding their product range, and set up many new initiatives. However, it is important to continue to focus on innovation. Only in this way, we can create a sustainable (manufacturing) industry. Another item requiring attention is the fact that the opportunities offered by digitisation for improving products and production are still insufficiently seized.

Accumulated knowledge applicable in ever more sectors

In the past year, our organisation concluded a new covenant with Innovation Minister Muyters. Flanders considerably invests in innovation, giving a clear and very positive signal to the industry. It’s the task of Flanders Make to support companies in their innovation efforts with basic and applied research on the one hand, contract research and infrastructure for validation and testing on the other. We’ve noticed to our great pleasure that in the past year many innovation-reinforcing projects with large AND small companies have been set up within the sector. Furthermore, the technology and knowledge of Flanders Make appears ever more often to be applicable not only in the manufacturing industry but also in other industrial sectors such as the food and pharmaceutical industry. As a result, the knowledge that we acquire – for instance in the field of autonomous systems, augmented reality or predictive maintenance – can be used for a broader range of applications. This allows us to increase our impact on the industry and to create extra added value.

More than ever one strong brand: Flanders Make

Internally, we’ve continued to streamline our organisation in 2018. We concluded agreements with universities, created clusters and reinforced them with new companies, set up core labs and adapted our branding so that today, more than ever, we present ourselves as one strong brand: Flanders Make. For every cluster, roadmaps have been defined and approved of by the Board of Directors. Because we attach great importance to local anchoring, we also concluded a contract with the Flemish government to erect a new building in Kortrijk in 2019. Here, we want to focus on production research. In 2019, we’ve started with the preparatory works for the building and production infrastructure. In Leuven, we already moved at the end of 2018 into another building with more lab space for our researchers. A first company is already using the space to accelerate its research through co-creation. Finally, we’ve made major steps in aligning our organisation on a strategic, commercial and operational level so as to be able to present ourselves as one entity. The result is a strong internal joint venture that brings the concept of an ecosystem for innovation into practice.

Single point of contact for the industry

By working together with other initiatives in Flanders, Flanders Make is now able to act ever more often as one single point of contact for the industry. Even on a European level, we notice every day that our reputation is growing, witness the increasing number of inquiries from across Europe about our working methods but also about our knowledge and the way it could be used in a European context. Our ecosystem is unique in Europe: diverse knowledge actors structurally and actively working together with the industry. The first contacts with European companies to set up joint research project have already been established. At the annual symposium that we also organised in 2018 for CEOs, R&D managers and business managers of large and small companies, we succeeded through various demonstrations in showing to businesses the potential promising applications of our research.  Meanwhile, we’ve set up projects worth about 144 million euro and that’s definitely something we are very proud of.

Now in 2019, Flanders Make can no doubt be referred to as an important research player in the implementation of Industry 4.0 and the major partner in Flanders and within all new living labs that have been set up over the past two years. In 2018, we could expand our workforce to over 500 enthusiastic employees and generate a turnover of give or take 52 million euro. We owe all this for a part to the strong growth in leverage revenues (both on an industrial and European level), generated by us to complement government funding.

Growth ambitions

In 2019, we would like to maintain this momentum. Not only will we continue to strengthen our operational organisation, we also want to remain sufficiently ambitious so as to be able to make a difference towards the future. By way of cooperation initiatives, for instance in the area of artificial intelligence, digital twins, etc. we aim to focus even stronger on our role within the Industry 4.0 context. In this way, we want to enable companies, thanks to the use of smart production systems, to produce locally at the cost of mass production and, as such, to manufacture smart products as well. The Innovation Boosting campaign, a two-year project supported by Innovation Minister Muyters, provides us with extra leverage for this. Thanks to this project, we now have disposal of a coordination budget that we can use to apply the available knowledge in one-on-one relationships with companies to further improve their products and production processes. 

Our growth ambitions include both our revenues, cooperation projects with companies and our workforce. Our revenues should be increased thanks to the knowledge that we’ve accumulated on an industrial and European level and by focusing on a wider field of application in all our partnerships with existing and new businesses. This will result in increased leverage revenues. With, among others, the Benelux initiative SmartFactory – which pursues a European smart factory and smart production alliance – and an innovation ecosystem that is implemented internally, externally and on a European level, we continue to explore ways to promote cooperation. As a third, we wish to evolve from a project-based organisation to the structural accumulation of research results that are re-usable so that one project is also the start of a new one, enabling us to build an innovative and sustainable future.

Finally, we permanently strive for operational excellence. Whatever we do, we should always do it well. This is reflected in high-quality projects, roadmaps that are in line with the outlined strategy, excellent research and one distinct and uniform presentation of Flanders Make in all our promotional material. It is the only way to strengthen the industry and respond to the challenges that we face today. If we strengthen innovation today, we can make maximum use of future growth opportunities and market our products on a global scale. Obviously, the war for talent remains a challenge for us as well but we are convinced that the challenging content of our job opportunities and our excellent reputation will guide interesting profiles to Flanders Make."

 


Dirk Torfs, CEO Flanders Make