Antwerp – 21 November 2017. As of today, companies in the manufacturing industry can make use of our MAKE LAB. This is a mobile research laboratory in which companies can try out new technologies and collaborative human-robot processes. They can test how a robot works side-by-side with a human operator, 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. With its MAKE LAB, Flanders Make supports Flemish companies in the further development and innovation of their production facilities and methods, enabling them to make their products faster and better and to stay ahead of foreign competitors.
The “digitisation” of the industry (Industry 4.0) is more than a technological (r)evolution. The switch to a 'mass customisation economy’ with personalised, smart and connected products will force companies to fundamentally re-consider their role, business model and production facilities and organisation. With its MAKE LAB, Flanders Make brings a mobile living lab with state-of-the-art production technologies literally to the shop floor of companies. According to Urbain Vandeurzen, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Flanders Make, this will allow companies to discover and experiment with state-of-the-art production techniques and working methods.
Dirk Torfs, CEO of Flanders Make, explains the importance of the MAKE LAB: “Companies can only remain competitive if they develop into so-called smart factories that use the most recent production methods and technologies and invest heavily, among others in the production of flexible small series. With our MAKE LAB, we offer – big and small – companies a co-creation environment in which they will explore, together with knowledge institutions, the production trends for the factories of the future. They can test new production processes, validate solutions that they developed in-house or conduct feasibility studies. This will enable them to validate the economic and technical feasibility before deciding on the actual – costly – investment."
The MAKE LAB is part of a major infrastructure project of Flanders Make. With this project, Flanders Make will invest between 2016 and 2018 five million euro in living lab infrastructure that will help companies through co-creation to introduce new products to the market at a faster pace and will encourage knowledge development through cooperation. As both large and small companies will be able to try out processes in a realistic shop floor environment, the step to MAKE LAB will be an easy one to take. Subsequently, they can set to work in their own factories using technologies that have already proven their added value to their company. In this way, the MAKE LAB will stimulate innovation within the manufacturing industry.
Factory of the future on wheels
The MAKE LAB simulates a state-of-the-art production environment, a factory of the future on wheels as it were. Although robots play an important party, human operators remain central as well. The objective is not only to give companies the opportunity to explore new technologies for improving their production processes but also technologies that support operators. For instance: a robot could take over strenuous, repetitive tasks but human operators will still be needed for work requiring a higher degree of precision. However, in production environments in which many different parts must be made, this implies that – time and again – operators will have to learn new processes. We therefore provide for digital work instructions that are adjusted to the individual operator’s level of expertise. Training with Virtual or Augmented Reality helps to assimilate these new processes faster, even before the parts are actually there. This makes it easier for companies to carry through small changes and, accordingly, to increase the flexibility of their production processes. Besides, we can also measure how demanding a task or how ergonomic a production cell is in view of optimising them.
Companies work closely together with Flanders Make in the MAKE LAB
Atlas Copco, world leader in developing and delivering industrial applications, has already worked together with Flanders Make in various research projects. In the MAKE LAB, a collaborative robot – or ‘cobot’ – will assemble a small compressor together with an operator. Digital work instructions and Augmented Reality are used to support the operator and monitor the correct execution.
Wouter Ceulemans, President of the Airtec Division of Atlas Copco Airpower: “We at Atlas Copco believe very strongly in the motto “there’s always a better way". Because of the increasing importance of Industry 4.0 with trends such as connectivity, AI, digitisation, etc. innovation is taking place in so many areas that it is becoming increasingly important to enter into partnerships. Thanks to an organisation as Flanders Make, we can develop a strong local network and work out joint research projects.”
The Niko Group is a family business from Sint-Niklaas specialised in the production of switchgear and power sockets and employing about 700 persons. The automation of the assembly process for such small electronic high-precision components brings numerous challenges. For Niko, the MAKE LAB is the ideal living lab for a project studying how a robot can learn new tasks faster in view of making automation cost-efficient for small series as well.
“The mobile Flanders Make lab not only shows us these new technologies, we can also really “feel” and work with them. This enables us to involve our employees from the very beginning of this technological evolution. These new technologies must help us to make our production as efficiently and ergonomically as possible and to maintain our production in Sint Niklaas,” explains Thomas Verlodt, Senior Project Engineer Operations at Niko.
The MAKE LAB was facilitated by:
ABOUT THE MAKE LAB
Flanders Make is the strategic research centre for the manufacturing industry in Flanders. The MAKE LAB makes available mobile living lab infrastructure, which will enable companies to valorise research results at a faster pace and to realise real product and process developments. The project is part of an overall development plan of Flanders Make and has been realised with support from ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and SALK (Strategic Action plan Limburg). For more information on the FAMILIAR project, please visit our website http://www.flandersmake.be/en/projects/familiar.
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 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 and at the 5 Flemish universities: KU Leuven, Antwerp University, Gent University, Hasselt University and the Free University of Brussels. www.flandersmake.be
Linda Corstjens, PR & Communication Manager
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