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“This is the biggest accolade we can achieve as a manufacturing business”

The award is ours: P&V Panels can officially call itself a Factory of the Future for the next three years. The award is presented by Agoria and Sirris to manufacturing businesses that are embracing the future. Supply Chain Manager Yannick Indeherberge, Production Manager Erwin Verstraeten and R&D Engineer Bernd Mouchaers tell us more about the journey we’ve been on so far, and what the key moments were in their eyes.

Yannick: “We’ve made several strides forward, but the most notable thing is the improved layout in production. Our workshop is more structured and cleaner, from the way in which the various work areas have been laid out to the way in which we store components and tools. In fact, the jury was particularly impressed with these aspects. They complimented us on the transformation they saw between their first visit and final visit.”

“Our customers had nothing but praise for us too. Due to the coronavirus, it’s been a while since they’ve been able to visit us on site, but when they started coming back into our workshop, they could instantly see how everything had been optimised.”

Bernd: “It’s always wonderful to hear something like this, as we’re right among the thick of it. We’re constantly on the lookout for aspects at P&V that could still be improved. The risk we run as part of that is that we lose sight of just how far we’ve come, because we’re too focused on the things that aren’t going quite right.”

“And that’s why I’m so pleased we’ve won this award: it confirms we’re on the right track. We’re no longer the only ones that can see the progress we’ve made: an external party has objectively confirmed that we’re fully focused on the future as a business.”

Coronavirus and material shortages

Erwin: “This award is something every single one of us can be proud of. It’s entirely different from the certificates or preferred partnerships we get when we’ve mastered one specific element of what we do. Only businesses who score highly on all possible aspects can claim to be a Factory of the Future: automation, digitalisation, sustainability and so on.”

“Every one of us here at P&V has contributed to this, in circumstances that have sometimes been challenging. Change is never easy, and we’ve been asking a lot from some of our colleagues: on top of the various change processes, we also had to deal with the coronavirus and material shortages, which brought some of our projects to a halt. What we’ve managed to achieve despite all that is something everyone can be proud of. As I see it, this award is the crowning glory for all that hard work.”

Bernd: “We’ve always got a range of improvement projects on the go at P&V, but Factory of the Future has shifted everything up another gear. So yes, we’ve really had to keep our foot on the gas on all fronts and in all divisions over the past few months.”

“That said, this award is the pinnacle of what you can achieve as a manufacturing business. Especially to us, as we’re not a typical manufacturing business like the rest of the candidates. There’s no way panel building and the type of projects we do can be fully automated. Machines might take centre-stage at other manufacturing businesses, but the craftsmanship of our people is what matters most to us.”

“At other companies, everything is standardised, but the projects we work on are true one-offs. And that means we face a whole host of different challenges to the average candidate, so it remained to be seen whether the jury would take that on board too.”

More workshop than factory

Yannick: “We’ll always be more of a workshop than a factory, so to be able to claim a Factory of the Future award is truly incredible. The fact that we’ve received this recognition means that we’re approaching teams such as innovation the right way as a business, that the things we’re implementing here are effectively leading to new successes, and that we’re all set for the future.”

Erwin: “This is a result we’ve achieved together. The group put forward a huge amount of fresh ideas, and each one of these contributed to us winning this prize. And that’s before we mention the effort it took to get all of these proposals translated into the workplace, as a group. I’ve got huge respect for every one of my colleagues who managed to effectively put these ideas into practice.”

What is a Factory of the Future?

  • A factory of the future is a future-oriented manufacturing business that uses the most advanced digital technologies to implement intelligent and sustainable processes.
  • Factories of the future use the materials and energy available to them in creative and optimal ways and believe in innovative business models aimed at empowering employees.
  • The products made at factories of the future often have high added value and flexibly anticipate the increasingly specific needs of customers.

According to Agoria, the Belgian sector federation for technology businesses, these are the key features of a Factory of the Future. As a federation, Agoria brings together nearly 2,000 technology businesses in the manufacturing sector, the digital and telecom sector, of which 70% are SMEs.

The list of former winners includes Continental, Daikin, Bosch, Duracell and Reynaers Aluminium.

How do you become a Factory of the Future?

Focusing on the seven cornerstones (see above) is a basic requirement.

“But everything starts with a scan of your business by a team compiled by Sirris and Agoria”, R&D Engineer Bernd Mouchaers explains. “Following that scan, they’ll offer a number of proposals and levers for each cornerstone.”

“We then linked these to the initiatives we already had in our diaries. All of this was gathered together in a case file, which we presented to the jury. A tour of the company and round of questions followed — and all we had to do then was cross our fingers and wait for the phone call!”

The key moments

It simply wouldn’t be possible to cover every single initiative that eventually led to our Factory of the Future award in this magazine. To give you some idea of the strides we made, we’ve selected a handful of key moments below.

01. LEAN with LEGO

Production staff and engineers gathered round the table to analyse our production fl ow step by step. They then used LEGO to build improved layouts. This served as the foundation for implementing LEAN in our workshop.

02. Recognition as an SDG Pioneer

When a business receives the Voka Charter for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (VCDO) three years running, it is officially recognised as an SDG Pioneer. These steps forward in terms of sustainability mark another crucial element of a Factory of the Future.

03. Build panels, build bridges

Workplace learning, thesis support, internships — we’re fully committed to working together with schools. That way, we can tackle the shortage of technical talent.

04. Everything is connected

All these small steps together lead to a great leap forward. Continuous improvements to SAP, further integration of ERP, better interfaces — innovation is all about the details.

05. From 2D to 3D engineering

We’ve switching from 2D to 3D in our EPLAN design software. The result: improved quality and shorter lead times.

06. Automated made-to-measure wiring

This switch to 3D in turn facilitated a switch to automated made-to-measure wiring. We invested in a machine that cuts, strips and labels electrical wires.