Flanders Make

In 2018, EDM became a core lab of Flanders Make. Within that strategic research centre we primarily use our expertise to help the manufacturing industry innovate. But with our IT expertise, we are also happy to help other industries grow.

Sonia proudly between some machines, leaning on a robotic arm

Helping the manufacturing industry innovate and strengthen

The era of mass production is far behind us. Customisation is increasingly becoming the standard in the manufacturing industry. And that creates incredible opportunities to bring production back to Flanders, despite the high labour costs - provided our companies innovate fast enough. Flanders Make wants to contribute to this with targeted applied research in four domains.

Flanders Make is a strategic research centre for the manufacturing industry. With very concrete applied scientific research, we bridge the gap between academic research and the needs of industry. We focus on four key competencies: the two technology clusters Decision & Control and Design & Optimisation develop new technologies and tools to support the two application-oriented clusters, Motion Products and Flexible Assembly. EDM has been part of the Flexible Assembly cluster since 2018.

Unique in Europe

Flexible Assembly is relatively new within Flanders Make and was created at the express request of the companies themselves. While every large company currently has its own R&D department for product innovation, much less is happening in the field of process innovation. Even within Europe, this focus on the process is quite unique.

The manufacturing industry is evolving rapidly, and the success of mass production is long behind us. Production is moving towards smaller and smaller series with a shorter lifespan and many variants. As a result, the production process must also be organised differently and more flexibly. But how do you properly manage an assembly department which is undergoing continuous change? And how do you ensure that you can effectively make the production process more flexible without increasing production costs? There is still a lot of room for innovation in this area.

At the request of industry

Four academic labs and our own Flanders Make production lab join forces within the Flexible Assembly cluster. The research usually starts with a concrete request from the industry. The basic research is mainly done in the academic labs. Each partner contributes a piece of the overall puzzle based on its own specific expertise. In the Flanders Make lab we bring all these insights together and literally build a complete assembly line where we can test new solutions very flexibly.

I am very happy that EDM has joined this application cluster, because until recently its expertise in Intelligible Interactive Systems, Augmented and Virtual Reality and Networked and Secured Systems was the missing link for us. In these areas, EDM really has unique research expertise that is relevant to a wide variety of innovative solutions for the manufacturing industry. It is no coincidence that the Hasselt University research centre is already able to present such an impressive track record after such a short period of time: the number of projects in which their expertise makes a difference is enormous.

Keeping work instructions up to date

In the OperatorKnowledge project, among other things, we were looking for a way to dynamically create work instructions in a flexible assembly production line and keep them up-to-date. This is still a huge challenge for companies today.

One of our tasks in this project was to investigate how we can use artificial intelligence to automatically distil an assembly sequence from a CAD environment, starting from a 3D drawing. We were also translating a number of short tasks into small, modular work instructions. In doing this we ensured that the employees themselves can select and save exactly those illustrations that they personally find the clearest. They can also formulate additional comments on these images. In this way, the system continuously generates and optimises customised instructions.

Digital factory

We assume that in the future every modern factory, as well as having effective production lines, will also have some kind of digital factory. And that digital factory will be much more than just a database of digital models and drawings. It will be a place where analyses and simulations can first be digitally tested and optimised before they are effectively put into production. In this way we hope to be able to optimise the production process before the actual production starts. Our companies have a lot to gain from such innovations.

In order to design and optimise such flexible assembly developments at a high level, EDM expertise is crucial. EDM researchers provide the visual representation in a virtual reality environment, and they turn their insights regarding human-computer interaction and networked and secured systems into user-friendly and intuitive interfaces. Together with our other partners, we are solving the puzzle and developing innovative techniques. With these scientifically substantiated new techniques, we can boost our manufacturing businesses’ effectiveness, allowing them to strengthen their competitive position.

~ Former Cluster Manager Flexible Assembly Flanders Make Sonia Vanderlinden

Learn more: www.flandersmake.be

Maarten Wijnants

Core Lab Manager