The building blocks of Industry 4.0

The building blocks of Industry 4.0

Digital technologies fundamentally change the way in which companies operate. They help them to adapt to the increasing market demand for smaller series and highly personalised items and cater to the need for automation. Digitisation initiates a revolution within the manufacturing industry that will increase productivity, allow for economic growth and – ultimately – will strengthen the market competitiveness of manufacturing companies.

For smaller companies, however, it is not always obvious to identify how they can benefit from technological innovations. The potential for improving their systems or the cost-efficient implementation of these technologies may seem too far from their day-to-day reality. Still, countries with a prominent SME culture such as Belgium[1] cannot afford to miss the boat.

That’s why Sirris, Flanders Make and iMec joined forces to support SMEs in the adoption of digital technologies in view of optimising their production processes. Starting from very tangible queries, the partners set out to bridge the gap between the technological needs of these companies and the existing technological offer. This already resulted in the development of concrete, innovative solutions at the right cost.

[1] In 2016, 99.3% of all companies in Belgium were SMEs, according to FPS Economy, SME, Self-Employed and Energy (15/01/2018).


It is widely assumed that next-generation machines will most probably be cyber-physical systems. Cyber-physical systems integrate the digital and real (or physical) world. In concrete terms, a machine and its digital twin operate in parallel with one another and exchange information to improve machine performance and servitisation. This concept can also be extended to multiple machines, which all exchange information through a cloud, thus creating an Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) that works in exactly the same way as a computer network.

The basis for initiating this digitisation, which will also promote the transition towards the 4th industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), is implementing the right infrastructure, consisting of:

  1. smart and reliable algorithms to transform sensor data into decisions
  2. reliable & fast wireless communication
  3. a robust control system

In this context, it will be no surprise that Flanders Make and its partners focus on these technical infrastructures as key enabling technologies for cyber-physical systems that can make companies ready for Industry 4.0. For each of these building blocks, a use case is presented.


LVD’s sheet metal bending machines are pedal-operated. However, with the ever increasing demand for ergonomic design and production efficiency, LVD was considering going wireless. A wireless foot pedal eliminates the hassle of vulnerable cables on the floor and allows for a more lightweight design. When the sheet press machines are used in a tandem configuration, several (smaller) machines can work simultaneously, increasing the overall capacity.

However, this decision is not without challenges. First of all, the ultra-wideband wireless technology required for positioning the pedal relative to the machine must be sufficiently accurate for indoor use. Other prerequisites are low latency and a redundant design. Indeed, when one pedal can be used for several machines, you will want to make sure that the pedal cannot accidentally trigger the adjacent sheet press, potentially causing an unsafe situation.

Flanders Make researched several design options in a proof-of-concept. We selected both hardware and software and validated the set-up in a demonstration. The knowledge is now being transferred to LVD so that they are able to reproduce, operate and maintain the set-up.

Cedric Herreman, leidinggevend mechatronica-ingenieur bij LVD:

The development and validation of a wireless pedal system using UWB technology was something we could not have achieved without our collaboration with Flanders Make. We now have a proof-of-concept set-up that we can use not only for evaluation and demonstration but also for future integrations, enabling us to be top of our segment not only today but also tomorrow.

Each of the presented companies has taken crucial steps towards their digital transformation. By integrating new technologies, automating processes or improving products, they significantly increased their competitiveness. They are proof that, independently of size, manufacturing companies do have a future in Flanders and Western Europe. That is the strength of Industry 4.0.


Are you an SME ready to take the first steps on its digital journey? Or are you facing a specific technological challenge? Then contact us today.

Dirk Torfs, CEO

Dirk Torfs is CEO of Flanders Make since 2014. Dirk is a Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineer as well as a Doctor in Applied Sciences (KU Leuven). He has over 20 years of experience in management positions in the Flemish industry and is Professor of Quantitative Decision-Making for the Executive MBA programme of the Flanders Business School.