Flanders Make Symposium helps companies ease into Industry 4.0


Manufacturers from across Flanders and Brussels will be at Antwerp Expo on Tuesday for Symposium 2019: The Future of Manufacturing

I, robot

Industry 4.0 is a buzzword that tends to make managers and workers alike tremble. It is the digitalisation of manufacturing processes, which confuses bosses who don’t know where to get started and convinces workers they are being replaced by robots.

At its annual symposium, research centre Flanders Make nudges Flemish companies along on their way towards Industry 4.0. The event takes place on Tuesday of this week at Antwerp Expo, focusing on technical evolutions, most notable artificial intelligence (AI) and data – but also on the human dimension.

The symposium, now in its fourth year, is the place to be for business leaders and R&D managers to familiarise them with the latest technological evolutions that are radically changing the industrial sector. “This is essential for them to remain competitive,” says Dirk Torfs, CEO of Flanders Make. “The digital transformation is in full swing, and enterprises need to take action to not get left behind.”

High-tech brainchilds

Flanders Make sets up an exhibition space that showcases innovative technological applications developed by its teams for and together with companies. Participants can marvel at about 30 creations, such as a drone capable of autonomous stock management.

New this year is a programme that allows enterprises to demonstrate their own high-tech brainchilds. Industrial Cobotics, from Haaltert in East Flanders, will, for example, shows off its Universal Robot concept, while Ghent company Yazzoom demonstrates its AI-based software.

“Every year, we highlight key technological trends that companies need to follow closely, and this year our focus is on the huge impact of AI and big data,” explains Torfs. “Companies need to learn to efficiently collect data and convert it into action-oriented intelligence that can be used for concrete purposes such as preventive machine maintenance.”

Nicolas Deruytter’s presentation, then, will be particularly interesting. The CEO of the rapidly growing company ML6 in Ghent, Deruytter will explain how AI can serve to optimise the intelligent monitoring of different kinds of systems.

ML6 caters to a broad array of sectors, including health care, retail, manufacturing and public services. Deruytter’s talk is part of a whole session on the impact of AI, which also features the heads of the companies Yazzoom and Robovision.

But human reasoning will always remain indispensable for companies, which is why Flanders Make is also holding a session on strategies to efficiently involve employees in the technological acceleration. Recent research by the University of Leuven emphasised that employees are not necessarily negative about technological innovations, but they get  stressed out when they are not included in the planning leading up to the new technologies showing up on the factory floor.

Preparing workers

Influential Flemish psychologist Elke Van Hoof will outline how enterprises can get the best out of their staff during the transformation of a business culture. A professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Van Hoof is the founder of  Center for Resilience in Hoegaarden, an expertise centre focusing on employment-related stress, bore-out and burn-out.

Labour market expert Fons Leroy, who recently retired after 15 years at the helm of the Flemish employment and training agency VDAB, will point out which competences are essential in the current digital era.

Experts from Flanders Make, meanwhile, will explain how they support businesses on their path towards Industry 4.0, and two companies, Magnax and Arkite, will testify how exactly they were helped by the Flemish research centre. Torfs himself will demonstrate how their research and technology contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Representatives of local telecoms operator Citymesh and international telecom provider Nokia will furthermore discuss the potential impact of the 5G network in Belgium, a hot topic as its introduction in Belgium has been postponed by the government. The symposium will be closed by Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon, who will share his vision on the current state of the manufacturing industry.

Photos, from top: The many faces of Flanders Make ©Courtesy Flanders Make; robotic applications help agriculture workers seed new plants ©Robovision