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Organisations in North-West Europe join forces to promote the integration of innovative technologies in the automotive and food industry.

Research centres, Chambers of Commerce and knowledge institutions from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom join forces in a new interregional project. Together, they support SMEs in view of integrating new technologies in their production systems, such as robots working together with operators. This is announced by the project’s lead partner Flanders Make, the strategic research centre for the manufacturing industry. The project offers SMEs from the automotive and food industry the opportunity to acquire experience in digital technologies through living labs in which recognisable conditions are simulated. In a next stage, having acquired the necessary knowledge, they can invest in these technologies and thus strengthen their competitiveness.

To be able to compete with production in low-wage countries, SMEs in our regions require flexible production systems that meet the increasing demand for highly personalised products and small product series. Still, only few manufacturing SMEs fully grasp how robots that collaborate with operators (collaborative robots or cobots) can contribute to this and are hesitant to invest.

Interreg North-West Europe now created a consortium with 8 organisations1, including Flanders Make and Voka Limburg. “Collaborative robots have potentially more impact on the manufacturing industry than, for instance, 3D-printing”, says Maarten Witters, project manager for Flanders Make. “They work safely together with people and support them, among others in dealing with heavy loads. As they can be used for many different tasks, these so-called cobots play an important part in flexible production systems. We want to make SMEs aware of the potential of this kind of technology by giving them comprehensive information and offering them the opportunity to work with it in realistic settings that are created in living labs. In this way, we can convince them to actually start working with it.”

The project aims to reach about 60 SMEs in North-West Europe and as such increase their turnover with an estimated 50 million euro and create 125 new jobs. We also want to inspire SMEs throughout the region and encourage them to implement new technologies in their organisation and thus strengthen their competitiveness. This will not only create direct jobs in the manufacturing industry but also indirect employment in associated design, engineering and marketing companies.

Flanders Make participates in this project with its MAKE LAB2. This is a mobile research laboratory in which companies can try out new technologies and collaborative human-robot processes. They can test how robots work side-by-side with human operators, discover the added value of Virtual and Augmented Reality in a production environment, find out how a smart workstation may look like and measure whether a job is too strenuous or not.

SMEs can join the project by using special vouchers for training sessions, demonstrations or technological support for the effective implementation of a new technology in their company. It concerns an all-encompassing track on which they are permanently supported by the project partners. In this way, we can flexibly respond to the specific needs of companies in view of the further development of their production and the implementation of innovations on the shop floor.


For more information or visual material:

Linda Corstjens, +32 491 27 17 70,

About Interreg North-West Europe

Interreg North-West Europe is a European Territorial Cooperation programme that has the ambition to turn the North-West European area into a key economic player and an attractive region to work and live, with high levels of innovation, sustainability and cohesion.

About Flanders Make

Flanders Make concentrates on industry-driven technological research and innovation together with and to the benefit of large companies and SMEs within the Flemish manufacturing industry. The focus is on open innovation through excellent research in the field of mechatronics, methods for developing products and technology to make them. This contributes to concrete product and process innovations in the vehicle industry, mechanical engineering and production environments. The research results can be applied by a very wide range of companies across the manufacturing industry, which often face similar technological challenges. Together, they can innovate better and faster. Flanders Make also attaches great importance to international cooperation in the field of innovation and to participation in European research projects.

Flanders Make has establishments in Lommel and Leuven, a satellite branch in Kortrijk and research teams at the five Flemish universities: KU Leuven, Antwerp University, Gent University, Hasselt University and the Free University of Brussels.    

For more information on this project (COTEMACO1):


1  COTEMACO: Increased Competitiveness Through Efficient Man & Machine Collaboration. The project partners are: Belgium (Flanders Make – lead partner, VOKA Limburg), Germany (Zema, BEST-Advice Center for Socially Acceptable Technology-Designing incorporated association), the Netherlands (High Tech NL, FoodTech Brainport) and the UK (the University of Lincoln, Greater Lincoln Local Economic Partnership).

2 The MAKE LAB offers companies mobile, fully connected research infrastructure. For more information: