"Industry 4.0 trends such as sustainable manufacturing, mass customisation, smart & interconnected products, etc. are making current products increasingly complex. We no longer talk about mechanical but about mechatronic and intelligent systems. This means that product designers not only need to combine different disciplines – mechanical engineering, electronics, control engineering, software... – but also different technologies. Furthermore, following the need for mass customisation, they must be able to design cost-efficient product families instead of one product, taking into account all stages of the product’s life span. From manufacturing and assembling over use to recycling. Obviously, this hasn’t made the design process for Flemish industrial companies any easier.
With the cluster Design & Optimisation, we want to support the manufacturing industry in Flanders in its design processes by developing methods and prototype tools that can help designers in the choices they have to make. We do this by exploring alternatives, making simulations and evaluating concepts. We have disposal of one internal lab, two university labs and a consortium of about twenty companies. The latter can be involved in different ways depending on the type of research.
Of course, this creates a great many challenges but that’s what I like most about working for Flanders Make. As a cluster manager, I have a coordinating role. I try to align the work and developments in our three core labs and to make sure that the work that we do is industrially relevant so that, in the end, we can help companies to take on the challenges that they face today within the context of Industry 4.0 and increasing digitisation. I feel satisfaction every time a company says that they’ve made progress thanks to Flanders Make and our developments.
Throughout the years, I’ve seen Flanders Make grow as an organisation in many different ways. On the one hand, there is of course the huge increase in the number of employees, a trend that will be continued in the forthcoming period. But, apart from this, it strikes me that we’ve grown from a research institution with our own people into a network of university and internal core labs. Obviously, working together within such a network is at times a major challenge, but I am also convinced that it makes us stronger. An initial exploration period, in which we get to know each other and each other’s competences, creates confidence in a successful and productive cooperation.
Finally, our focus is – more than ever – on the longer term. Where, in the past, we predominantly worked on a project per project basis and received funds for a couple of years, our operational perspective is now longer and we use a roadmap as a guide to define our research projects. In other words, we have a long-term vision that is defined in consultation with our partner companies. This clear focus and course brings us – and the Flemish manufacturing industry – only benefits."
“Satisfaction? I feel it every time a company says that they’ve made progress thanks to us.”