- A German and a Frenchman were standing at the coffee machine … It could be the beginning of a joke. But it’s much better: it is how the Facil success story came about. The Belgian service provider of small parts is now rolling out its global strategy. Starting from its home base in Limburg,
A German and a Frenchman were standing at the coffee machine … It could be the beginning of a joke. But it’s much better: it is how the Facil success story came about. The Belgian service provider of small parts is now rolling out its global strategy.
Starting from its home base in Limburg, Facil has opened branches in Europe, North and Central America, China, Thailand and Japan. With their approach, they also provide a unique added value to the car and truck manufacturers that are today their main customer sectors.
CEO René Achten (63) is predicting that the company’s turnover will grow from 390 million euros today to 500 million euros by 2020. BeAutomotive asked him how.
Facil is big in small components. How do you explain your company’s business line to family and friends?
René Achten: “In any given car there are approximately 500 different fasteners, provided by 50 to 60 suppliers: bolts, screws, studs, metal or plastic clips, brackets, nuts, pins, plugs, rivets, washers, springs, fittings, rings, and so on. For a truck, there can even be more than 1,500 different components. Follow-up is extremely complex as a result, with tasks such as coordinating, ordering and monitoring adding up to a huge endeavour. And whenever there is a problem with a part, the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) can hardly obtain quality of service, because it is just a small customer for the parts manufacturer.
Facil solves this problem by putting itself between the parts manufacturer and OEM. This is where we play our role as a solution provider. On the one hand, we reduce the number of suppliers. And on the other, we are the OEM’s single point of contact for all fasteners. When problems occur, we immediately look for solutions. We guarantee a never stop the line service, by making sure that all needed parts are delivered just in time at the point of usage, and obtain a 5% cost saving a year on fasteners. Our customers are able to make huge savings as a result.”
How on earth did a chat by a coffee machine in Valencia lead to establishing this company?
René Achten: “In 2000, Ford was looking for a solution to a problem which had troubled the car manufacturer for a long time: having to buy the small fastening parts from many different suppliers. Ford then assembled all these suppliers in Valencia and announced that it wanted a total solution for these small parts. The company that would apply for the contract would have to be able to produce at least 60% of the components in-house.
At the time, the parts suppliers ARaymond and Kamax separately did not meet those requirements. But when two men from those two companies got chatting at the coffee machine, they found the solution: a new joint venture between their companies. I was hired to lead the new company. Before that, I had worked for 15 years as material handling manager at Volvo Car Sint Truiden, and afterwards as material manager at Rieter Automotive.
Six months after we started with just a container as an office, we were already profitable. Today we have a turnover of just under 400 million euros. In the past three years, we’ve grown on average by more than 11% annually.”
You sell more than 10,000 types of components. That’s more than 2 billion units each year. Why do customers choose Facil?
René Achten: “When we started in 2000, there was scepticism at Ford. Three years later, management told us that they had always dreamt of the solution we offered. They were facing problems on a daily basis. Suddenly, these disappeared or were resolved very quickly. In 2007, Volvo Trucks told us that they chose us because our customers were so enthusiastic about what we had done for them. That was the decisive factor for them. Two years ago, our contract with them was extended by 5 years, because they were very satisfied and still are.
And that’s how we keep growing. We now have Ford, Volvo, Daimler Trucks in North America, and BMW as our OEM customers. We also serve other Tiers to OEMs such as Lear, Faurecia and Johnson Control.”
Your customers save 5% on their fasteners each year. How do you achieve that?
René Achten: “We do more than just try to optimize the component itself. We look at the whole process: part manufacturing costs amount to 20%, and 80% of the costs are made up of transportation, packaging, inspection, logistics, services, design and development and assembly costs.
In automotive production, getting urgent shipments of new components to the assembly line on time in case of faulty products is an everyday reality. Sometimes, a small part is rushed to the plant by helicopter. However, we are making these shipments a thing of the past, by working proactively with suppliers and collaborating with them.
We also save customers a lot of time and money because we arrive on site to solve a problem within 5 minutes of getting a call.
To give you an example, in the assembly of door hinges, the bolt often gets damaged. The end customer complained about poor-quality bolts. But when we looked at it, we quickly saw that the parts were not defective; it was the assembly process that was very difficult. The hinge assembly had to be done slanted at an acute angle, which explained why the pins often got damaged. We solved the issue by suggesting self-aligning bolts for the assembly.
Our customers are literally noticing the 5% savings in their figures. At the same time they are probably saving more than 5% in indirect costs, although these are difficult to quantify.”
Is innovation also crucial in your business? Where are you innovative?
René Achten: “In any case, fasteners are seen as a necessary evil. Engineers prefer to work on engines rather than nuts and bolts. Yet, a great deal of innovation is needed in this segment.
Our efforts are deployed in the four processes in which we operate: part engineering, product quality, purchasing and logistics.
We always look for solutions that fit in the big picture. Just a few examples : our SmartRack always shows how many parts can be found at any location in the factory; we look for ways to simplify complex supply lines; we practice block stacking and bulk packaging in logistics and we have our own Facil box which integrates RFID.
Our main goal in this respect is to offer customers added value to bring down their costs.
Our high added value stems from our involvement from the very early production stages of a vehicle. This means that already during development we help determine which fasteners are the best, instead of simply supplying what customers order. We can draw from the innovations created by our shareholders Kamax and ARaymond to also suggest new and innovative fasteners at that stage.”
This year, you are opening a site in Japan because your customer Volvo Trucks is starting production there. Is this the way you like to grow?
René Achten: “Our concept requires us to have a branch close to every customer. There, we employ a team that oversees logistics, quality and engineering. Whenever major issues occur, we can be on site within 5 minutes.
Asia is also a very important continent for us. This is where most of the world’s cars are built.
This global expansion is facilitated by our corporate structure and cooperation with our two shareholders. Kamax and ARaymond have operations across the world. Whenever we launch a new branch, we can rely on the support and infrastructure of these global organisations. They allow us to hit the ground running. In theory even in Iran where ARaymond opened a site.
The hardest aspects to manage in international expansion are the cultural differences. In our branches, we work with local people, and also go through a learning process in this respect, just like all the multinationals before us.”
Which attributes should your employees have?
René Achten: “Of course, they should be competent people, and they should enjoy doing what they do. People who enjoy their work are also willing to look for a win-win, again and again.
That’s why we work with enthusiastic, talented entrepreneurs who are prepared to work in an international environment and have a capacity for problem solving. Within Facil, we’ve even given them a name: the Facil Fasteneers.
We are constantly on the lookout for this type of people. Not to fill up our job vacancies in a rush. No, I prefer to search longer for someone with the perfect profile. Young or old, man or woman, nationality, all these things are of secondary importance.
We give them freedom, a happy team spirit, opportunities to work in other cultures and challenging projects. This attracts entrepreneurial people.”
How important is it to have the headquarters and R&D department in Belgium?
René Achten: “That is a good question. When we started up in 2000, it was vital because we were located so close to Ford Genk. Now that Belgium is losing more and more production sites, this no longer seems the obvious choice.
Actually, the opposite is true! In Genk, we have built a real competence and knowledge centre over the years. Apart from our headquarters, it is our leadplant, and it cannot simply be relocated from one day to the next. Our brains are anchored here.
The entrepreneurship displayed by employees, their creativity and dynamism, is one of the strengths of the workforce in Belgium. This is the spirit we need for our business. Belgium has that in spades, which explains why we will never relocate.
In total, nearly 100 of the overall 400 Facil employees work in our country. The entire staff is here and coordination is done from Belgium. The service to solve local problems is provided locally at customers.”
Which assets should Belgium promote better?
René Achten: “I think it’s very important for Belgium market its strengths better. We want more operations in automotive to take place here in our country. The electric car is an opportunity in this respect. That is why we are actively involved in the development of this car, in China and here.
Focusing on knowledge and innovation is crucial for Belgium, although this could be supported more effectively than in the past. In addition, I can comment mainly on what should have happened. For instance, I am convinced that Ford Genk would still be there if we had a more stable political climate. It is no coincidence if the factory was closed while we had no government.
Compare it to what is happening with online retailing today. Because of our rigid legislation, we are years behind in e-commerce. That is very sad.
In China, they have cities with 20 million inhabitants and one mayor. Here there are so many levels, the fragmentation is so great. This cannot be explained to foreigners, with the consequence that they get to review their decision three to four times before they invest in Belgium.”
Facil has grown strongly in the first 16 years. How do you expect to grow in the future?
René Achten: “16 years ago, nobody would have dared dream that Facil would become what it is today. From nothing, we achieved a turnover of 390 millions euros in 2015. And this growth is set to continue. We are therefore expecting turnover to reach half a billion euros in 2020, when our Plan 2020 comes to completion.
In our 2020 plan, we will be developing our service concept further, and expanding to other regions and sectors. In addition to the automotive sector, we want to expand into the agriculture & construction industry, as well as the rail industry. We believe that they also have similar needs. We are thinking of targeting Belgian players like Bombardier, Van Hool, VDL Bus & Coach, New Holland and Caterpillar. The way Agoria helps us establish contacts is fantastic. The fact that we are all Belgians makes things go smoother.
Expanding our range of products is also crucial. We can extend from our current core focus ‘fasteners’ to all other small components.. All C-parts (small high quality parts produced in high volumes) fit into our little Facil box, in our concept and our logistics networks.
We also have some geographical questions we need to answer. What do we do with regards to Africa? Do we start up a branch in Australia where there now is demand for our services?
These are and will remain very exciting times.”
- The increase in production at the Volvo plant in Ghent also means more people have to be hired. The Belgian car manufacturer is looking for 100 temporary workers, in addition to the 350 temporary workers already hired last summer. The success of the V40, S60 and XC60 models, which are built in Volvo’s plant in
The increase in production at the Volvo plant in Ghent also means more people have to be hired. The Belgian car manufacturer is looking for 100 temporary workers, in addition to the 350 temporary workers already hired last summer.
The success of the V40, S60 and XC60 models, which are built in Volvo’s plant in Ghent, continues unabated. Demand for the V40 and XC60 mainly is growing in all regions, and especially in Europe.
This year, the Belgian plant will roll an additional 16,000 cars off the production lines at the request of the Swedish headquarters. This may well bring the production of Volvo Car Ghent above the 250,000 vehicles threshold for yet another year, and this for the sixth year in a row.
No economic unemployment
The work pace at the plant on John Kennedylaan in Ghent has shifted up another gear. Fifteen shifts overtime have been introduced and three vacation days in the penultimate week of the year are being moved to 2017. The plant won’t have to use the previously planned economic unemployment scheme.
Managing Director of the Ghent plant Eric Van Landeghem is delighted. “Otherwise, this would put pressure on our organisation and our logistics,” Van Landeghem said in an interview with De Morgen newspaper. “Our people are certainly working overtime a lot, and they choose now if they prefer to be compensated with vacation days instead of being paid for that extra time.”
100 additional employees wanted
There are currently close to 6,000 people working at the plant. In order to compensate the permanent employees for the overtime by offering them vacation days, Volvo Car Ghent has already hired 350 additional temporary workers since the summer holidays. But this is not enough. The HR department is now looking to hire another 100 temporary workers.
Not an easy task. “We are frantically trying to recruit,” spokesman Mark De Mey told De Tijd newspaper. “There is a noticeable shortage in the labour market.”
Working students also welcome
Worth noting is that experience, even though preferred, is not a deal-breaker. A good attitude, on the other hand, is crucial in order to be recruited by Volvo.
This is good news for the growing population of students who want to work during the year, since working students are also allowed to apply.
< iviewThe brand new factory of the Belgian Procoplast is tucked away in Belgium, yet close to the major German car market. This specialist in delicate plastic parts for the automotive industry is satisfied with its new site at the still vacant Lontzen industrial park. The factory of the future is getting an additional two machines
The brand new factory of the Belgian Procoplast is tucked away in Belgium, yet close to the major German car market. This specialist in delicate plastic parts for the automotive industry is satisfied with its new site at the still vacant Lontzen industrial park. The factory of the future is getting an additional two machines each week. By the end of 2016, 9,500 m2 should be fully utilized … allowing work on a further extension in order to reach 12,500m2 of floor area. And yes, to tap into the Asian and US markets as a result.
That much is obvious, not only does owner and CEO Geoffroy Boonen have big plans for the specialist in small plastic parts in which electronics are integrated, he also carries them out. This explains why he invested 10 million euros in a hyper-automated factory instead of relocating his company to a low-wage country.
Boonen was deservedly nominated ‘Manager of the Year’ in 2015, and was sure to win the award. In 2017, his Belgian company Procoplast will be one of the finalists for the ‘Company of the Year’ award. “It would mean great recognition for the efforts that my staff and I deliver day in and day out. And a reward for the politicians and all the people who believe in and support Procoplast.”
Whatever happens, Geoffroy Boonen is keeping his eye on the ball and makes routine inspections of the plant, checking that brushes are in their place, asking a worker to move the pallets out of sight or a cleaner not to place his white spirit on the red lines. “I always have to police things because there is always something that is not where it’s supposed to be,” laughs or sighs Boonen.
You have just invested 10 million euros in this factory of the future. How did you get to this point?
Geoffroy Boonen: “I acquired the company in 2006. Procoplast was launched in 1989 with a focus on automotive. Today we produce 160 million small parts annually. These include plastic rings, caps, pump holders, trays… with a built-in electronic circuit. They are used for the brakes, airbag, start & stop function, the steering wheel, pedals, and so on. Our parts enhance the safety and comfort in our cars. We don’t supply them directly to the car manufacturers. Rather, our customers are amongst the major automotive suppliers. Think of Bosch, ThyssenKrupp, Hella, Kiekert, ZF, TRW, to name but a few.
Our new plant is hyper automated. 42 machines and 20 robots will operate here. We are currently relocating two machines each week from our former facility in Eupen with the goal of making the whole plant operational by March 2017.”
160 million products a year, which no one knows they are built into our cars. In which car makes will we find Procoplast parts under the bonnet?
Geoffroy Boonen: “You will find our parts primarily in German cars, namely in the start & stop function and airbags fitted in vehicles made by the Volkswagen Group, but also in Renault, Fiat, Peugeot, and in Mercedes steering. It is true that we make parts that nobody will see under the bonnet of a car and that do not interest the public at large. For example, for Mini and others, we produce a pump element to cool off all electronics in a car, and some one-off parts for Landrover. I don’t know about other makes because we deal with suppliers.
However, we can definitely make an educated guess. Considering that 16 million cars are produced in Europe every year, each contains 10 of our parts on average. We export 90.7% of our production.”
What is the strength of Procoplast?
Geoffroy Boonen: “Our strength is that we have invested early and heavily in automation. We did that rather than opt for delocalisation.
Indeed, we have to admit that we cannot survive if we rely on manual labour a lot. We want and need to deliver a premium quality product at competitive prices and with zero errors.
This advanced automation does not mean that we will cut jobs. In fact, do you know what’s happening in our company? At present, we are employing twice as many people as five years ago. We create jobs! We have a total workforce of 116 people, including temporary staff. There were less than 50 people working for the company when I bought it more than 5 years ago.”
Are you finding people to meet this growth?
Geoffroy Boonen: “We are in an economically strong region. There is almost no unemployment here. Finding additional people with a technical background is therefore no easy task. Our education system does not make it easy for companies like ours either, because it lags behind in relation to the digital age. Even though the world is changing at high speed, the education system is still teaching old technologies. If we had resolved this issue by offering more practice-based classes and more internships in high-tech companies, we would have already taken a big step forward. In the company, we are constantly training our staff.”
Do you also owe your success to your own R&D?
Geoffroy Boonen: “There are two types of R&D: fundamental and operational. In our particular case, the suppliers carry out the fundamental research to develop their components. We then make the parts they design and need.
To give you an analogy, it’s like building a house that was designed by your customer. You need to develop a plan to build the house, a plan that, in our case, specifies the shape of the mould, the location of the electrical contacts, the assembly process for the robot, testing to check that everything is functioning well, and subsequent packaging. We make, and carry out, this plan. That’s why we have all the knowledge in house to make a high quality end-product.
It often takes two years to build and coordinate such a production line. And during that time it produces nothing. As soon as it starts running, we make money.“
It is common knowledge that there is tough competition in the automotive sector. What is your solution?
Geoffroy Boonen: “We fully deploy our expertise. Since we have a lot of expertise in house, we manage to attract complex projects and we are capable of creating technical parts that nobody else can make. These are parts with high added value, which we produce in large quantities. Once we win a contract, we run the production line for up to 6 or 7 years for a single car model.
It is great news for us that cars contain more and more high-tech components. Before we had to wind down a window or move a seat manually, for example. Now, everything is electronically controlled. For example, my steering wheel starts vibrating while a warning triangle flashes on my left side mirror if I attempt to move to the left lane to overtake when another car is coming. These are the kind of things that increase safety, comfort and sustainability and we are contributing to their deployment.”
What is it that makes your new plant a factory of the future?
Geoffroy Boonen: “Our geographical situation differs greatly from that of our previous pant, which was in a residential area near the railway station. Here we are outside the residential area, with good access to the motorway. Trucks and cars come to a different location. Our flow of materials is much smoother and we have taken into account as many ecological aspects as possible. For example, the LED lighting automatically adjusts to the daylight; the heating is environmentally friendly; we work with very modern, closed production lines; our cables and plastic granule supplies are distributed from the ceiling of the relevant production halls; we can easily expand; and so on.”
Belgium is an excellent loation to serve suppliers in Western and Eastern Europe. How do you propose to expand further internationally?
Geoffroy Boonen: “If you want to serve the United States and Asia, you can’t do that from Belgium. That’s right. We would not be competitive because currency fluctuations are excessive, transportation costs are too high and taxes weigh too heavily.
However, our plans do include a global expansion. We may achieve this through acquisitions and setting up new plants in other continents where we would replicate our Belgian factory model.
On the one hand, our customers are hoping that we will supply our products on other continents. On the other hand, I myself have the ambition to give Procoplast a global presence within two years. Imagine, for instance, that tomorow we could transpose to another sector, including in the US and Asia, what we are currenty doing for the automotive industry.
The more I travel, the more opportunities I see. It is a matter of duplication.”
Procoplast have grown significantly. How will you keep growing in the future?
Geoffroy Boonen: “The cars that roll off the line today contain more electronic components than ever before. This trend is set to continue at a rapid pace. Self-driving and electric vehicles will also account for the increasing demand for our components. All the electronics must be encased, cooled and protected. Our casings are sturdy, finished with great accuracy and with just as much detail. Not everyone can make that.
We therefore believe in further growth.
We promote ourselves actively by taking part in trade fairs, such as the International Suppliers Fair (IZB) where we are exhibiting with Agoria. Technical people get to meet us there. Since they did not search for a producer of plastic parts on Google, we have to stand out. So, we are presenting our parts like jewels in glass showcases, with elegance and beautiful lighting.”
According to you, how can Belgium strengthen its position in automotive?
Geoffroy Boonen: “Politicians like to quote us as an example that re-industrialization is possible in Belgium. And indeed, if we maximize automation, focus on products with high added value that are difficult to make, and choose to be a supplier, there are opportunities. Especially since Belgians are creative, courageous, hard working and have the right skills. For example, most of my people speak three languages: French, German and English. And with our Flemish suppliers, negotiations are easily done in German.
But let’s not forget that it’s only by investing heavily in our plant that we got where we are today. This is a key element of our success story.”
- The tools manufactured by Festool for the automotive market will now be distributed by 3M. This partnership signed in Germany has also been extended to the Belgian Automotive Collision Repair market. In the Festool range, polishing machines, dust extractors and sanders are the main tools used in the automotive after market. These are sold to
The tools manufactured by Festool for the automotive market will now be distributed by 3M. This partnership signed in Germany has also been extended to the Belgian Automotive Collision Repair market.
In the Festool range, polishing machines, dust extractors and sanders are the main tools used in the automotive after market. These are sold to bodywork garages, repair shops and suppliers to the automotive collision repair market.
Strategic agreement also covers Belgium
Back in February 2016, Festool, which manufatures electric and pneumatic power tools, signed a strategic cooperation agreement with 3M. From January 2017, both companies will launch in Belgium – and the rest of Europe – the Total Automotive Sanding System for the automotive collision repair industry.
From then on, customers in the automotive collision repair channel will have access to a unique and comprehensive surface preparation, finishing and dust extraction system from a single supplier.
“3M and Festool engineered the Total Automotive Sanding System to support the ongoing need for cleaner, safer, more efficient and profitable automotive collision repair workshops,” 3M commented. “With the combined world-class portfolios of 3M abrasives and Festool premium tools and services, 3M can provide a total solution to make body shops more profitable.”
2 companies steeped in automotive history
3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division (AAD) is part of the 3M Industrial Business Group (IBG). It is the market leader for automotive maintenance and collision repair, and offers a full range of products for the manufacture, repair and maintenance of vehicles. With more than 70 subsidiaries worldwide, the Division has been active in the automotive collision repair industry for more than 90 years.
Festool develops electric and pneumatic tools for professionals as well as users with tough demands. Automotive is an important market for the company’s Belgian branch in Brussels. Since the founding of the family business in 1925, its commitment to quality and innovation has earned it over 350 patents and more than 90 awards.
- Over the past 5 years, 26.5 million euros have been invested in the Ford Lommel Proving Ground. Yet another reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Belgian test and development centre. Car testing started already 50 years ago at Lommel Proving Ground, Ford’s testing and development centre in Limburg. To date, the Lommel Proving
Over the past 5 years, 26.5 million euros have been invested in the Ford Lommel Proving Ground. Yet another reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Belgian test and development centre.
Car testing started already 50 years ago at Lommel Proving Ground, Ford’s testing and development centre in Limburg.
To date, the Lommel Proving Ground is still the only Ford test facility where all passenger cars and commercial vehicles for the entire European region and even countries outside Europe are being tested and developed.
More than 700 cars undergoing tests
Looking for some key figures?
- 8 to 12 million test kilometres driven annually
- A 320 hectare site
- Testing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 355 days a year
- Up to 700 vehicles being tested
- 105 engineers out of a total of 410 employees
- 90 workshop and instrumentation mechanics
- 140 test drivers & electronic system testers
- 25,000 engineering visitors-days per year.
It goes without saying that, ever since it began operating 50 years ago, a lot has changed in the function of the test track. For instance, while testing and improving the durability of passenger and commercial vehicle have remained priorities, other aspects have become more and more important. These include the environment, dynamic behaviour and new technologies.
The facilities of Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground are the subject of ongoing investments to ensure they keep up with advances in the automotive industry. In fact, the most recent investment round was completed in September 2016. Between 2011 and the present, no less than 26.5 million euros have been invested.
Thanks to the investments, the test tracks were extended to a distance of 105 km, a new Vehicle Dynamics workshop was built, the 120,000 m² Vehicle Dynamics Area got new pavement, and additional test rigs to improve the NVH (Noise, Vibrations, Harshness) qualities of vehicles were set up.
Over the past few years, funds have also been invested in additional testing procedures and infrastructure for the development and adjustment of driver assistance systems and other cutting-edge automotive technologies.
Ford LPG now employing 410 people
The office buildings were also extended to accommodate the growing workforce. The number of Ford employees has grown from 330 to 410 between 2005 and the present day, in addition to the 40 to 100 external staff brought in to work on specific projects.
Students, too, are welcome on the circuit. Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground works closely with colleges, universities and engineering students from within and outside Belgium. Students receive practical advice to help them with their training or projects. The Belgian Solar team and the Formula Electric Belgium team are examples of such projects.
- Driver training in Belgium can easily cost between 1,400 and 2,000 euros. Not cheap for those who want to learn to drive. Absolutely unaffordable for the unemployed and people living on income support. The leasing company Arval and social driving school Chantier have come up with a solution. A person with no driving licence, no
Driver training in Belgium can easily cost between 1,400 and 2,000 euros. Not cheap for those who want to learn to drive. Absolutely unaffordable for the unemployed and people living on income support. The leasing company Arval and social driving school Chantier have come up with a solution.
A person with no driving licence, no secondary education diploma and no professional experience has very little chance of finding a job. Only 16% of people who are unemployed and receiving benefits do find a job, according to a study by Forem in 2010.
A driving licence increases job opportunities
For this target group, having a driving licence dramatically increases the chances of getting a job. It is precisely the reason why the association Chantier offers driver training to low-skilled adults, in addition to other programmes in real working conditions and with individual coaching.
The lessons at Chantier cost less than traditional driver training and the association is looking into enlisting organisations such as health insurances and unemployment agencies to foot part of the bill.
50 additional trainees get driving lessons
The leasing company Arval has been supporting this key project in terms of social responsibility by supplying a free lease car for the past three years. As a result, Chantier has been able to offer driving lessons to 50 additional trainees each year.
Arval, which was founded in 1989 and is a 100% subsidiary of BNP Paribas, specialises in the full service leasing of commercial vehicles. The company employs more than 5,500 people spread across 28 countries. Arval has a fleet of 949,000 vehicles worldwide (December 2015). Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is part of Arval’s DNA.
- More and more Belgian students choose studies in the field of Automotive. This is evident from the registration figures from the Automotive Technology programme at Thomas More on Campus De Nayer in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. Registrations have gone up by almost thirty per cent there. The news of rising enrollment figures is good for Belgian companies active
More and more Belgian students choose studies in the field of Automotive. This is evident from the registration figures from the Automotive Technology programme at Thomas More on Campus De Nayer in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. Registrations have gone up by almost thirty per cent there.
The news of rising enrollment figures is good for Belgian companies active in automotive. They often struggle to attract the right type of staff and in sufficient numbers.
For the academic year 2016-2017, the Automotive Technology programme has managed to attract no less than 29 percent more students. Unfortunately, this has happened partly at the expense of the other technical courses at Campus De Nayer: Electro-mechanics (-6 percent) and electronics-ICT (-8 percent).
Registrations for Design and Production Technology remain stable.
“Studies with a future”
“In total, this amounts to a hundred students enrolled in the first year,” Director of Studies Wouter Lutin from Thomas More Campus De Nayer told the Gazet van Antwerpen newspaper. “We are pleased that so many have registered, because it is a pathway with a future. Our studies produce technicians with a broad know-how who can score high in today’s automotive industry. Our practice-based syllabus seems to be highly valued.”
Fast track to employment with an automotive technology diploma
The BeAutomotive interviews clearly show that young people with a degree or experience in automotive are sought after. The last figures released by VDAB support this. Graduates in Automotive Technology, among other degrees, quickly find work upon completing their studies.
“Our students get into the automotive industry one way or another, in technical after-sales services for manufacturers, leasing and insurance companies, testing departments and more and more garages. As a result of the automotive sector’s increase in scale, car service companies hire higher qualified employees than they used to,” says Wouter Lutin.
There are a lot of job vacancies on BeAutomotive.be/#jobs
- After successfully integrating the fully automatic robot Robomould in 15 plants in other sectors, Belgian AMS is ready to conquer the automotive world. “We aim for a market breakthrough in the use of plastics in auto parts,” says AMS CEO Johan Potargent. Based in Bilzen, Limburg, AMS is programming the software that controls the precise
After successfully integrating the fully automatic robot Robomould in 15 plants in other sectors, Belgian AMS is ready to conquer the automotive world. “We aim for a market breakthrough in the use of plastics in auto parts,” says AMS CEO Johan Potargent.
Based in Bilzen, Limburg, AMS is programming the software that controls the precise operations of the robots on the production lines of the Audi Q6, Volvo V40 and V60, BMW 1, BMW mini, Mercedes Sprinter, etc. Since 2006, AMS is also a specialist in software used in setting up production lines.
Up to 1.8 million euros in R&D
AMS now has the world’s first fully automated rotational moulding machine ready for the automotive sector. With Robomould®, AMS is introducing rotational moulding for plastic parts using industrial robots together with electrical heating of the mould.
In recent years, the company has invested from 1.6 to 1.8 million euros in the machine. More R&D will be undertaken in partnership with car manufacturers.
“We are currently investigating ways to enable our machine to produce the AdBlue tanks which will soon be compulsory in every diesel vehicle,” says CEO Johan Potargent. “Our next step is to investigate how different parts, both inside and outside parts, can be produced using rotational moulding.”
Any shape in plastic
The advantages of this process are a much lower energy consumption combined with a higher production output, quality and flexibility.
“In a Mercedes truck for example, a tank that is tucked away under the driver seat can be shaped over the wheel and the step behind the truck cab. It is quite difficult to make this very irregular shape from metal. In plastic we can produce any shape once we have a mould.”
Reduce weight in automotive
AMS aims to extend the new Robomould® system to cover the production of parts based on carbon fibre technology in order to reduce the weight and increase the strength of automotive parts.
“There is not much that can be done to engines anymore,” adds Potargent. “Above all, cars should be lighter to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. With plastics, it is therefore possible to produce parts such as a bonnet and a boot…. which involves the use of our technology.”
Audi, Porsche, VW, Mercedes and BMW: the key to market breakthrough
Potargent has actually partnered with French automotive manufacturers to explore ways to make several “outside parts” of a car from plastic.
With the world premiere of the Robomould at the International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Hall 2, stand 2105, he hopes to attract the German car manufacturers as well.
“Audi, Porsche, VW, Mercedes and BMW. The Germans are crucial in enabling the market breakthrough of our technology. Now that everything is ready, I want to speed things up to be the first to launch this solution on the market.”
AMS is planning to sell up to 30 Robomoulds this year. In 2017, 60 units, and an awful lot more once it has successfully penetrated the automotive market.
- While mega car carriers can be seen leaving and entering the harbour behind the desk of Joachim Coens, Managing Director of the Zeebrugge Port Authority, he is presenting equally impressive growth figures. The Belgian coastal port is already the largest car shipping port in the world, and… intends to remain in this position. In 2015,
While mega car carriers can be seen leaving and entering the harbour behind the desk of Joachim Coens, Managing Director of the Zeebrugge Port Authority, he is presenting equally impressive growth figures. The Belgian coastal port is already the largest car shipping port in the world, and… intends to remain in this position.
In 2015, over 2.4 million cars drove on and off the car carriers moored at the five piers of the 4 km long quay walls dedicated to handling car shipments. A record year. And yet, this record is already set to be beaten following a 21% growth in the first two months of this year.
“With 2.42 million vehicles, we are the world’s biggest car transit harbour. Never has a port attained such figures,” enthuses Joachim Coens.
How does the Managing Director of the Port of Zeebrugge Authority explain this success? How does Coens expect the Port of Zeebrugge and its 2,000 employees to grow in the future?
Car transit is showing strong growth in the Port of Zeebrugge. Why is that so?
Joachim Coens: “Indeed, we are experiencing a 20% growth in the number of cars. In addition to passenger cars, we are seeing an increase in high & heavy cargo traffic: tractors, vehicles manufactured by Case New Holland, harvesting equipment, yachts, etc.
We owe this success to several factors. We have links to the four corners of the world through both deep sea and short sea services: USA, Canada, South Africa and Asia, and Europe.
The fact that we are not an industrial port also plays a role. We are located on the coast in a fragile natural environment. Our air is clean, which car manufacturers consider to be an asset, since bodywork is sensitive to air quality.
We have also built up a major specialty with regard to car handling, including the fitting of options and light repairs. And we have plenty of space in our inner port: 300 hectares of space to store and handle new vehicles.”
I understand that the port plays more than a distribution role. You do more than drive vehicles on and off ships?
Joachim Coens: “The cars that roll off the ships here are not yet fully ready for the end consumer. They are fitted with options in our automotive centres. For example, textile seats may be replaced with leather seats. Also we repair possible damages; we wax and dewax cars, paint them and prepare them for the end market. Toyota Motor Europe has its own dedicated terminal here, for instance.
Having these jobs outsourced to us as a port allows us to anchor ourselves in the production chain. We create added value for the car manufacturers. We innovate in that area and keep broadening our service offering.
Toyota was the first Japanese car manufacturer to seek those services in the 1980s. Their presence was a sign of trust. The other manufacturers have followed suit. For instance, Tata cars also come here from India. Not because they are sold in Europe. Rather because we fit them with options here, and ship them further to overseas markets.”
Automotive is a very innovative sector. Does innovation also play a role in your growth?
Joachim Coens: “To an outsider, our innovations may be less visible than those happening in the automotive industry, yet they are definitely there.
We are moving towards becoming a smart port. Paperless today, with e-gates and smart technology capable of identifying who comes to unload or pick up which cargo when. The vehicles are processed through an electronic system. The mountains of paper documents and stamps have been replaced by electronic documents. Everything is track and trace, which saves our customers a huge amount of time.
We are constantly working on improving the efficiency of processes, and we analyse trends. What will the self-driving car mean for our port, for example? How should we address this change, even though it won’t happen tomorrow?
Then again, the advent of the electric car is something more tangible. Or the expected decline in the number of cars sold because more people will share their car, they are tired of being stuck in traffic, and are looking for alternative mobility.”
Has employment grown together with the Port of Zeebrugge?
Joachim Coens: “Our car business today employs 2,000 people. Our workforce 5 years ago was just 1,000 employees. We’ve managed to double it in a very short time. Each car on each ship has to be moved by one person. This creates quite a bit of work, together with the preparation of the vehicles for the end consumer, the fitting of options, washing, and so on.
We recently hired 200 new blue-collar employees. They are currently attending their five-month training which instructs them on car handling processes.
In total, we have a very diverse group of men and women, of varying ages working here. Technicians, workers, IT people, logistics people, shipping specialists and engineers. The recruitment of these people goes quite well actually.”
The port is pre-eminently an international business. In which areas do you score better than foreign competitors such as Bremen and Rotterdam?
Joachim Coens: “The Port of Bremen in Germany is the second car transit harbour, with 2.2 million vehicles. Rotterdam only handles 295,000 vehicles. Antwerp does much better than that: they ship 1.3 million cars a year, mainly thanks to their strong position in Africa.
Every port is involved in automotive shipping one way or another. Manufacturers centralise their logistics to satisfy their own interests. Distance is a crucial factor in their decision. We are very well positioned in the automotive region comprising northern France, southern Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Among other reasons, Toyota has chosen us because we are close to their production plant in Valenciennes (F).
Unfortunately, the number of manufacturing centres has declined in our country. But thanks to our strong position this has less impact nowadays. But we would not have been able to build this strong position in the Belgian automotive landscape as it is today.”
Which assets should Belgium promote in automotive?
Joachim Coens: “I believe that Belgium cannot afford to miss the boat when it comes to electric cars. For instance, I think we should attract the European Tesla factory here.
And there are other possibilities. Mobility is key in a future where more people live in cities, in a country with congested roads, air pollution that must be reduced…
I am thinking of starting up a technology centre around mobility, involving research, partnerships and pilot projects. This could strengthen our leading role in Europe. With a strong commitment to mobility and an improved tax regime, Belgium might be able to attract new headquarters. Why do shipping companies establish themselves in London for example? They couldn’t be farther from the sea!”
In your port, the focus is also on sustainability. Is the Port of Zeebrugge aiming to become a Clean Port?
Joachim Coens: “We have strongly evolved towards this goal, and today we are already a Clean Port since we are not an industrial port. We have clean air, practice sustainable soil management, have ships running on natural gas, and we are building a wind farm in our inner port. The Toyota Motor Europe Vehicle Logistics Center Zeebrugge and Wallenius-Wilhelmsen Logistics Zeebrugge are already there. We, like them, believe it is important to have cheaper and clean electricity.
Such a Clean Port image is essential to attract more traffic from the food industry, for example. Each year, 300 million litres of orange juice are brought here in large tankers for processing into Tropicana fruit juices. The juice is packaged in Tetra Pack cartons in Zeebrugge for the UK and French markets. Importers of coffee and kiwi fruit also choose our clean air.”
What are the prospects for your company according to you?
Joachim Coens: “We can continue to grow our hub function. For example, a few thousand cars are transported from Asia to Zeebrugge. Once here there are redistributed and carried by boat to smaller ports. For instance, 100 cars are transported to Sweden, a few hundred to Portugal, etc. We combine other vehicle makes from other regions on the boat headed for Portugal. And why not; this allows us to ship a few containers that otherwise would not get into smaller ports by sea.
Indeed, this presents an interesting opportunity. Not every port can receive the ever bigger seagoing vessels with their 19,000 containers. We have much smaller car carriers that can also transport other cargo.
We enable this through the combined involvement of ship owners, terminal operators, manufacturers and ports. We, as a port, act as a platform.”
How do you see the future of the Port of Zeebrugge, and its car traffic?
Joachim Coens: “The current automotive transit growth is so fast that sometimes we are not able to keep up. But we have the location and space, experienced staff and major international ship owners such as NYK to make sure we continue to grow.
In the short term, we expect to see the number of cars increase by a third, to 3.2 million vehicles. In the longer term we can evolve to 3.4 million vehicles, or one million more than today.
Yet, it is difficult to predict the future. So many factors come into play: the Brexit, difficult relations with Russia, the Tsunami in Japan, to name but a few.
The only thing we can do is offer quality and added value. Leverage our main assets, be innovative and prepare proactively for the car of the future. We have the great advantage of being able to expand within our current lands, in terms of yet to be developed surface area, and of height.”
Which forward-looking decisions should you make today?
Joachim Coens: “A number of important decisions have already been taken. For instance, we are building four wind turbines, and we are completing the dock in our inner port which adds 600 m of quay wall to reach a total of 4 km in that area. Multi-storied garages are being built for cars, which raises our storage capacity while making sure the parked vehicles are protected from the elements.
One of our other major projects involves replacing the smaller Visart lock dating back to 1905 with a larger one. According to Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works Ben Weyts, it is still possible to break ground for this project during the current legislature. The work would start by 2019.
Around our port infrastructure, works are already underway, such as the improved connections to the hinterland, by rail, road and water. The new A11 is already a first step in that direction. The locks to Bruges have been planned.”
- Staden (B) • Independent manufacturer of trucks, trailers and rubbish trucks, and subcontractor MOL CY NV has landed contracts with ENAFOR and OIL INDIA for the construction of 48 mega Oilfield trucks and 82 Oilfield trailers that will be deployed for the transport of drilling rigs in oilfields in the Sahara and in Assam (India)
Staden (B) • Independent manufacturer of trucks, trailers and rubbish trucks, and subcontractor MOL CY NV has landed contracts with ENAFOR and OIL INDIA for the construction of 48 mega Oilfield trucks and 82 Oilfield trailers that will be deployed for the transport of drilling rigs in oilfields in the Sahara and in Assam (India) respectively. The first vehicles will be delivered from the first quarter 2017. The whole production will run for a period of 30 months. The contracts are worth over 25 million euros.
All vehicles will be built at the company’s site in Staden.
These orders are supplementing an already well-filled order book. MOL CY is building 4,000 m2 of additional assembly halls and actively seeking to increase its workforce, hiring mainly welders and fitters, to meet the growing demand.
MOL CY (www.molcy.com) is an independent Belgian manufacturer of trucks, trailers, rubbish trucks and offers subcontracting services. Founded in 1944, the company is located in Staden (Belgium) and is part of the MOL Group.
Production takes place in Staden as well as on the Kachtem site of ITK (www.itk-nv.be), another subsidiary of the MOL Group, totalling about 400 employees.
- Have you ever wondered how your car got that beautiful colour? Chances are the Belgian Alro Group coated or painted the metal and plastic products on your car. The contrasting colours in parts of the front and rear bumpers of the AUDI A3. The sumptuous window styles of the BMW 7 Series. The coating of
Have you ever wondered how your car got that beautiful colour? Chances are the Belgian Alro Group coated or painted the metal and plastic products on your car.
The contrasting colours in parts of the front and rear bumpers of the AUDI A3. The sumptuous window styles of the BMW 7 Series. The coating of metal parts for more than 2 million car seats each year for BMW and Mercedes. These are three contracts recently won by the Dilsen-Stokkem based Alro Group.
More than 100,000 products a day
ALRO was founded in 1976 by Mr Luc Thijs, and still has its headquarters in Dilsen-Stokkem. A specialist in metal and plastic products coating, the company operates more than 20 coating installations, processing over 100,000 products a day. The next day already, the components have to be sent to the clients all over Europe.
Millions of people drive a vehicle whose components are coloured by the Belgian specialist. In cars, these include, for example, chassis components, body panels, door and window frames, bumpers, mirrors, door handles, door panels, parking sensors, spoilers, wiper arms, dashboard components, mouldings, door handles, door panels, airbag covers, etc.
After the coating process, Alro sometimes also supplies a fully assembled product, such as a door handle, for instance.
Production expansion in Slovakia
At the request of its German customers, Alro launched a plant in Slovakia. “If you need manpower and if you have German customers, it’s the place to be,” Alro Group CTO, Carl Bruynseels, explained in an article published in L’Echo newspaper.
“We wanted to supply from Belgium but they said, no, it had to come from Slovakia,” added Plant Manager Koenraad Geurts. “The decisive factor for major car manufacturers is not always the price, but reliability and quality,” commented Carl Bruynseels.
Strong presence at trade fair
“People are often surprised when they see the production line,” said Koenraad Geurts who is Plant Manager at Alro’s site in Slovakia. “We take care of the entire surface treatment portfolio (painting, etc.). None of our competitors can do it and we still have capacity.”
Visitors to the International Suppliers Fair (IZB) will be able to admire their unique and comprehensive offering without having to travel further on to Slovakia.
Between 18 and 20 October 2016, you will find the Alro Group at the International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, on the stand shared with seven other Belgian automotive specialists.
- Another premiere from Belgium: the potting and transfer moulding technology from Ninix. The former spin-off of BC Components will reveal its innovation at the Internationale Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany. The aim of the development of this new packaging technology for automotive sensor modules was to combine the strength of potting technology with the
Another premiere from Belgium: the potting and transfer moulding technology from Ninix. The former spin-off of BC Components will reveal its innovation at the Internationale Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The aim of the development of this new packaging technology for automotive sensor modules was to combine the strength of potting technology with the advantages of transfer moulding technology and to minimize limitations.
Advantages of case-less design
The advantages of the Ninix technology are its design flexibility, customized designs, integration of cables and connectors, less conditioning of the models, less bleeding, lower pressure and lower stress on the electronics.
The case-less design facilitates superior adhesion of the liquid moulding material to the electronics. Resins with a high glass-transition temperature can be adjusted to meet the specific needs and requirements of the application in question.
Suitable for mass production
The technology is suitable for both small series and mass production. The resins cure in just a few minutes without requiring post-curing. The tooling and automation of this new packaging technology can be scaled with the required production series.
Ninix Technologies innovates in Bruges
Ninix Technologies is a manufacturer and designer of special machines and tools, high speed automated assembly lines, automated quality inspection systems and vision systems.
In 2001, the company was established as a spin-off of BC Components, drawing from the strong legacy of more than 20 years of components development and automation knowhow established by Philips Electronics Components. Based in Bruges, Ninix doubled its factory floor space in 2012 with a new building.
Ninix Technologies NV is one of the exhibitors sharing the “Belgian Automotive” joint stand at the International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Hall 2, Booth 2105 from 18 to 20 October 2016.
- The goal of the Belgian start-up Mazaro is anything but modest. Mazaro aims to bring to market a transmission that is better than any other transmission. And that’s exactly what it intends to demonstrate at the biennial International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany. Automotive companies have used the term “revolutionary” in their reaction to the
The goal of the Belgian start-up Mazaro is anything but modest. Mazaro aims to bring to market a transmission that is better than any other transmission. And that’s exactly what it intends to demonstrate at the biennial International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Automotive companies have used the term “revolutionary” in their reaction to the Reversible Variable Transmission technology, and the time has finally come for the Destelbergen-based company to present its invention to the world.
Reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 16 to 26%
Mazaro’s innovative transmission system reduces fuel consumption and emissions by 16 to 26 percent. And the system is impressively simplified: it only consists of 139 parts and a handful of bolts instead of the usual thousand.
Other benefits include immediate throttle response (faster than a sports car), smooth ratio changing, low maintenance requirements and silent functioning. The traction wheels transmit power in a continuously variable way in order to avoid the gear shifting that is typical of most conventional transmissions.
Solution to a common problem
Mazaro systems are not affected by ‘drill-slip’, a common drawback in all other continuous variable transmission systems, and operate without a clutch, torque converter, piston rings or synchronizers.
The systems are the first in the world with the capability to keep the engine on a particular curve at all times, be it the curve for the lowest fuel consumption, the lowest emissions of NOx, SOx or CO2 or any other desired combinations.
Public transport company would save 16 million euro annually
In 2016 BeAutomotive published an interview of Mazaro CEO Filip De Mazière and his wife and business partner Caroline De Dijcker.
“In automotive, a 3 to 4% improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions is heralded as a big improvement,” says Filip De Mazière. “We are talking about 20% fuel savings and a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. All the tests on the test rig prove it… but most of the industry has yet to be convinced.”
Caroline De Dijcker: “With our transmission, for example, the public transport company De Lijn would save 16 million euro annually on its whole bus fleet. Or 7,400 litres of fuel and 20 tonnes of CO2 less per year per bus! Our version fitted with a flywheel even leads to a 56% saving.
Looking for partners
Today Mazaro is looking for partners in niche markets, in particular manufacturers of larger vehicles such as buses, tractors, trucks and rubbish trucks.
“When it comes to purchasing or production, the focus is on fuel consumption and costs,” says Caroline De Dijcker. “And we bring down both.”
- There is a lot happening in Belgium’s automotive industry. Small and large companies alike are putting tremendous effort into building the future. Agoria will showcase eight innovators on the Belgian stand at the biennial International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany. The International Suppliers Fair (IZB) will take place in Wolfsburg from 18 to 20 October
There is a lot happening in Belgium’s automotive industry. Small and large companies alike are putting tremendous effort into building the future. Agoria will showcase eight innovators on the Belgian stand at the biennial International Suppliers Fair (IZB) in Wolfsburg, Germany.
The International Suppliers Fair (IZB) will take place in Wolfsburg from 18 to 20 October 2016. The IZB is one of Europe’s leading fairs for the automotive supplier insdustry. This will be the perfect moment to show the world that Belgium drives the future of automotive.
8 Belgian innovators
“Belgium, we drive the future of automotive” immediately became the slogan of the joint stand shared by 8 Agoria members, in Hall 2, Booth 2105.
Belgium’s tricolour is proudly represented by eight companies:
1. Alro Group,
2. AMS Belgium,
4. Kanigen Works,
7. Ninix Technologies,
Besides the group stand, Agoria is also planning a “Belgian automotive special event” at the Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts) on Wednesday, 19 October.
3 world premieres from Belgium
We will be revealing three world premieres at this year’s IZB, which is typical of the innovative Belgian spirit.
AMS will be introducing rotational moulding for plastic parts using industrial robots complemented by electrical heating of the mould: Robomould®.
Mazaro will be presenting an innovative transmission system which reduces fuel consumption and emissions by 16 to 26 percent.
Ninix Technologies has developed a new packaging technology for automotive sensor modules which combines the strength of potting technology with the advantages of transfer moulding technology, while minimizing limitations.
- As parents, what do you do when your children regularly take your car for a spin? Do you worry? Or do you install safety features to make sure your darlings get home safely? The Belgian company DongleApps opted for the second solution. Paul Janssens, father of two daughters (aged 17 and 19), and Christophe Neyt,
As parents, what do you do when your children regularly take your car for a spin? Do you worry? Or do you install safety features to make sure your darlings get home safely? The Belgian company DongleApps opted for the second solution.
Paul Janssens, father of two daughters (aged 17 and 19), and Christophe Neyt, father of a daughter and a son (14 and 16) decided against lying awake at night worrying about their children each time they were out. Janssens, the engineer with years of technology experience, and Neyt, the marketer with over 20 years of automotive experience, developed the Safety Stick, or RookieDongle for that purpose.
Insurance company endorses Belgian technology
The Antwerp insurance broker Kegels & Van Antwerpen is now giving discounts to anyone who allows their driving behaviour to be tracked by the Belgian technology.
“Young people can reach savings on their premiums of more than 50%. Companies with their own fleet can quickly achieve savings of up to 40% on their insurance budget,” says Patrick Van Dyck, commercial director at Kegels & Van Antwerpen.
5 minutes to connect a car
“It is very easy to set up the device (Plug & Play) in the car,” explained DongleApps manager, Christophe Neyt, earlier to Made in Oost-Vlaandereren. “Installation in a vehicle and activating the application on the smartphone takes less than 5 minutes. It is designed so as not to require any technical knowledge.”
“Of course, the reports are mainly a way to discuss and improve the driving behaviour of a son or daughter. If they truly drive safely, it is logical that they should be offered a lower insurance premium in return.”
Easy fleet check for companies
Janssens’ and Neyt’s DongleApps company also developed a solution for enterprises. The ProDongle is a small device that is plugged into the OBD port of a car or a van. Thanks to the built-in GPS and mobile connection, it is always connected to the cloud. The system records the distance, speed, driving style, fuel consumption, tyre wear, and so on.
A growing Belgian R&D team
Ever since it was founded in 2015, the DongleApps team has grown and now includes product designers, IT developers, database experts, security gurus, graphic designers and enthusiastic testers. The company is based in Wortegem-Petegem, close to Oudenaarde.
Kegels & Van Antwerpen NV is an Antwerp-based insurance broker with a turnover of 6.3 million euros, 56 employees and 14,000 customers.
- Every company operating in the automotive sector wants to produce better products faster. This requires them to conduct quality checks during the production process. The Belgian company Argon Measuring Solutions automates these checks and saves time. The secret of Heverlee based Argon Measuring Solutions? Their three-dimensional quality inspection of production processes using cameras built into
Every company operating in the automotive sector wants to produce better products faster. This requires them to conduct quality checks during the production process. The Belgian company Argon Measuring Solutions automates these checks and saves time.
The secret of Heverlee based Argon Measuring Solutions? Their three-dimensional quality inspection of production processes using cameras built into the robots in use along the production line. Major players like Audi and aircraft manufacturer Airbus are eager to work more closely with the Belgian specialist in measurement technology.
Check up to tenth of a millimetre
Argon CEO Geert Cremers tells Trends about the current test project at the Audi plant in Vorst. “For Audi Brussels, we measure the quality of the cars as they exit the bodywork department. Our measuring systems are built into the robots on the production line. In 90 seconds, they create a digital image of the vehicle whic is accurate to one-tenth of a millimetre. The operators see the images of different sides of the bodywork immediately on a screen.”
This makes sure any irregularities are revealed straight away and automatically during production. “Before that, at Audi Brussels, the vehicles were inspected using simple, touch-based measuring methods.”
Production start cut from 2 weeks to 2 days
For TI Automotive, the US-British producer of fuel tanks for the automotive industry, Argon’s solution means huge savings in machine time, people and equipment.
“By leveraging our technology, they manage to cut the lead time of a new production series from two weeks to two days. No need for our operators and engineers to manufacture new tanks again and again until we get it right. The 3D images they see on their screens allow them to identify immediately the defects in a fuel tank. As a result, they know very quickly whether and how they should adjust the production process.”
Unmatched top engineers
The future of Argon Measuring Solutions looks great. According to the company, it has no competitors and has no difficulty in attracting top engineers.
The company’s turnover increased from 2.4 million euros in 2013 to 4 million euros in 2015. In that period, the workforce rose from 21 to 35.
- Umicore specialises in the recycling of materials. With sites in Hoboken, Bruges and Brussels, to name but a few, the Belgian company posted positive half-year figures. The automotive industry, in particular, is responsible for giving the results a strong “green” boost. The total revenue of the Belgian materials group Umicore increased by 1% during the
Umicore specialises in the recycling of materials. With sites in Hoboken, Bruges and Brussels, to name but a few, the Belgian company posted positive half-year figures. The automotive industry, in particular, is responsible for giving the results a strong “green” boost.
The total revenue of the Belgian materials group Umicore increased by 1% during the first half of 2016 to 1.4 billion euros.
Revenue from automotive catalysts up 9%
The focus on automotive has contributed greatly to the overall result. Strong growth in Automotive Catalysts and Rechargeable Battery Materials more than offset the impact of lower metal prices on the various recycling activities.
Umicore recorded a 9% revenue growth in Automotive Catalysts. The operating result in this division even increased by 27%.
Growth in the Rechargeable Battery Materials division was primarily attributable to the increased demand for NMC cathodic materials. How so? Most Li-manganese batteries are blended with lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) to improve the specific energy and prolong their life span.
86 million euros in clean mobility
Investments show the direction in which Umicore is developing. Growth investments in clean mobility and recycling have been maintained and capital expenditures amounted to 86 million euros in the first half of 2016. Umicore is stepping up its expansion investments for cathode materials for automotive applications and will triple its capacity by 2018.
In Recycling, the ramp-up of the 40% capacity expansion in the Hoboken plant has started.
Innovator in electric vehicle races
Umicore itself is an active innovator in the future of automotive. The company supports engineering student teams involved in building electric vehicles to compete in international competitions such as Formula Student, Shell Eco-marathon and the Dutch Solar Challenge.
The Powered by Umicore programme is about innovation by engineering students who have the potential to realise future technology breakthroughs. The students are inspired by clean technologies and have the chance to show their potential as part of a team.
Read more on Umicore’s half year results 2016.
- Following the crisis, JTEKT Torsen Europe (based in Strépy-Bracquegnies) really took off. The company grew strongly in terms of personnel and production volume, leading to global market leadership in the production of slip differentials for four-wheel drive vehicles. All thanks in part to its crucial location in Belgium. Anyone who is into sports driving with
Following the crisis, JTEKT Torsen Europe (based in Strépy-Bracquegnies) really took off. The company grew strongly in terms of personnel and production volume, leading to global market leadership in the production of slip differentials for four-wheel drive vehicles. All thanks in part to its crucial location in Belgium.
Anyone who is into sports driving with an Audi, Volkswagen and Jaguar, or who regularly drives their 4×4 over adventurous roads, has no doubt already experienced a lot of driving pleasure thanks to the slip differentials made by Belgian company Torsen. They improve the way a car handles and ensure driving enjoyment and safety.
The company’s approach and innovative business model were recently awarded a Factory of the Future Award 2016, so it made perfect sense for BeAutomotive to race down to Strépy for an interview. “We’ve never had so many options”, says CEO Jean-Louis Dam in this interview.
Not many people would be able to say what Torsen does – and yet you are responsible for the driving comfort of thousands of drivers.
Jean-Louis Dam: “Yes, we provide comfort and safety. Our systems improve a car’s handling and ensure that the wheels maintain their grip on the road in the presence of black ice and water – in combination with ESP and ABS.
Slip differentials distribute the engine’s power separately to the wheels: front and back, left and right.
Our differentials are built into the premium cars made by the Volkswagen Group. We’ve been working for Audi for 25 years. Around 80% of our revenue comes from the Audi A4, A5, A6, A7 and A8, the Q5 and Q7, and the Volkswagen Touareg and Amarok pickup. You can also find our differentials in front and back on the Land Rover and other Range Rover 4x4s.
We’re also now doing development work for other customers, for example for the sport version of the Peugeot 308, 208 and RCZ-R. That’s a small car with a powerful, sporty engine. It has to have great handling.”
Torsen is part of Japan’s JTEKT Corporation. What is your position there?
Jean-Louis Dam: “Within our group, we are small, with 45,000 employees worldwide. In Europe, we are the only ones who make JTEKT’s drive line products. We don’t make them separately from our customers. We do work on the chassis, suspension and steering of the cars that include our component.
We aim to define, develop and produce the product for Europe as a whole. For the United States and Japan we do the gears. We develop and produce the case and housing here.
We’ve developed a technical edge within the Group. That’s why the parent company in Japan is aksing us to continue working on devlopment and is giving us the opportunity to invest. We are a technical centre for multiple technologies, in addition to our function as a plant.”
How much is JTEKT investing in Torsen in Belgium?
Jean-Louis Dam: “In the last six years, we’ve invested an average of €2.5 to 3 million per year, on revenues of €41 million. This year we are investing €1.2 million in R&D.
This means the prospects are good, although we must always remain cautious since we do not know how the market will evolve.”
You have a great combination of R&D, production, test infrastructure, etc. on a single site. Is this combination crucial for ensuring you are prepared for the future?
Jean-Louis Dam: “For us, this combination of technical sales, R&D processes and production is necessary. It is one of the reasons for our current success. These three elements are very important for being able to offer agile solutions.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to retain this variety of departments in Belgium. Because during the crisis of 2008-2009 I had to convince the group to leave R&D here. That wasn’t easy.
Just leaving production here would not be profitable. It has already been amost fully automated.”
JTEKT Torsen Europe won a Factory of the Future Award 2016. What does this mean for you?
Jean-Louis Dam: “This Factory of the Future Award is important for Torsen. It brings us into contact with businesses from other environments that have business models similar to ours. Whether they make furniture, organic bread or diapers, we share our strategic vision, knowledge of our customers, the approach we take and the services we deliver.
These kinds of contacts confirm the decisions I’ve made – and enhance our external profile as a company that works well. This helps when recruiting people and when seeking out new partners. For instance, I gave a speech at the University of Leuven and the response was: ‘Look, it’s possible there too!’.”
What can we expect of Torsen in the short and long terms?
Jean-Louis Dam: “Over the last four years we’ve doubled our volume, and nearly doubled our number of employees.
We are continuing along this path, which involves securing our incumbent market and continually developing new solutions. Accordingly, our biggest job is developing differentials for front wheels and electric and hybrid cars. In electric cars there is a major need for transmissions.
Some developments are nearly ready. While we’re developing others in the medium and long term.
Our core business is gears. Here, there are other things we could improve – for instance the materials and technology used. We are constantly trying to cut weight by using new materials and structures. We’ve got it down to 3.5 kg. Ten years ago, our products weighed 8 kg; two years ago they weighed 4 kg.
We’ve apparently run up against the limits of what we can do with metal and steel. But that’s not a problem. Over the last 20 years I’ve worked here, we’ve never had so much choice in terms of technologies and materials. The opportunities are enormous.”
Carmakers are also coming to Torsen for eco-design and eco-production. What does eco-design mean?
Jean-Louis Dam: “We often wonder how we can make products and services with as little equipment, people and energy as possible. That’s how you come up with something competitive you can offer customers.
Our eco-designs are useful here. Firstly, we are now required to comply with imposed standards. Secondly, our customers are looking for ever lighter and more environmentally friendly solutions. We offer solutions, then we guarante better services for them.
Overall, our energy consumption dropped 52% between 2005 and 2014. By 2020, our target is a 57% reduction. The weight of our products is down 50%.”
Your production process is thoroughly automated, yet you are employing more people today. How do you do that?
Jean-Louis Dam: “Three and a half years ago there were no robots in the production hall. Today, there are no lines without robots. Around 40 robots in all. The number of employees is also up, to around 200. And may even grow further to 250 in the short term due to investments in development and new products.
After the crisis there were only around a hundred people working here. In other words, automation supports our people; it doesn’t replace them. Our people retain power and control over what are good and bad products, what is a good or bad process. They are the ones who improve the programmes for our machines. That is something a robot cannot do itself.
We equip people so they can function properly. Good software, Excel skills and ERP packages. Otherwise, they keep creating paper.
Our mantra is not ‘digital’ just for the sake of it. Instead, we focus on solutions. We use digital and robots to implement the solutions we design.”
How do you see the 180 people on the payroll growing and developing?
Jean-Louis Dam: “It is a challenge to find personnel and partners who can and want to work with us, and who actively monitor this development and contribute to it. Technology is no longer limited. The resources are available. And the materials evolve so quickly.
We leverage the power of people’s creativity and adaptability.
We tell our personnel working here that we are doing everything we can to give them work. We point out that we don’t necessarily know at this time what they’ll be doing five years from now, but that we will always train them to do it.
These days, everything moves so much faster. We do not know which lines and types of products we’ll be making two or three years from now.”
How do you look for talent for further developing Torsen? Is such talent easy to find?
Jean-Louis Dam: “No, finding the right people is not easy. It’s still best to find someone with a good degree, such as civil engineering or a technical skill. But the soft skills are often missing – and they are needed to be able to work in a very agile manner.
Important soft skills are being able to collaborate, reaching consensus and thinking, suggesting agile solutions to customers, and understanding that we are providing our customers with a service, not products. Being able to listen to what the customer says is also critical – because the moment we improve the customer’s business, we’ve won.”
You are investing heavily. Is your location in Belgium an advantage?
Jean-Louis Dam: “Honestly? It’s always hard to motivate a group to do something in Belgium.
We do have the advantage that all major carmakers focus on the domain we are active in. BMW, Audi, Volkswagen are all trying to constantly improve how their cars handle. As a technical specialist, we can help with this.
The second advantage is that automotive is very important to JTEKT. We are the specialist close to European carmakers. The majority of our 30 to 40 subcontractors are located within a radius of 150 km of our company. We work together with all Belgian universities. Very early on we try to establish relationships with good students via internships and theses.
The third advantage is that Belgium is still a favourable location, despite all of the problems. Our people are very agile and very open since Belgium is small. We’re used to understanding other nationalities, such as the Germans, French, English and even Lithuanians. As a result, we’re the only site in our group that can easily confer with Japan, Europe and the United States.
It is very important to speak the customer’s language. We adapt culturally. We are also strong scientifically. Our universities, schools and research centres are very competent.”
- Things are going well on the Volvo Trucks production line in Oostakker, near Ghent. The factory is churning out 214 heavy trucks a day, meaning that its 3,000 employees are approaching their theoretical maximum capacity. 2016 is set to be another record year for the truck manufacturer. 2015 was also a good year, with 39,207
Things are going well on the Volvo Trucks production line in Oostakker, near Ghent. The factory is churning out 214 heavy trucks a day, meaning that its 3,000 employees are approaching their theoretical maximum capacity.
2016 is set to be another record year for the truck manufacturer. 2015 was also a good year, with 39,207 heavy trucks manufactured at the Oostakker site.
2015 saw the third highest production total since Volvo Trucks Belgium was established. Only 2007 and 2008 were better, with 43,504 and 43,068 trucks built respectively. The factory’s theoretical maximum capacity is around 45,000 trucks.
More variants for more markets
“We’re producing more variants for more markets,” said Vice-President Kamel Sid. ”We’re not standing still but continuing to respond to ongoing changes in the industrial environment.”
Not standing still should be taken literally…
€50 million of new investment
In 2014 there were two shifts, with a maximum production rate of 144 trucks a day. Thanks to substantial investment, this figure has increased.
Over the last two years, Volvo Trucks has invested around €50 million in Oostakker.
Volvo Trucks in Belgium is the world’s biggest assembly plant for Volvo heavy trucks. Some 3,000 employees work there, plus another 2,000 or so in the warehouse and service department.
900,000th truck purchased by Belgian haulier
Yet more cause for celebration in Ghent.
The factory recently celebrated the production of its 900,000th truck. The keys to this 420-hp Volvo FH 6×2 truck were officially handed over to the Herstal-based transport company Vincent Logistics, which then announced that it is taking part in the pilot project involving the so called Super Trucks or LHV (Longer and Heavier Vehicles) in Wallonia.
- On 1 July, Bart Bosmans was appointed Managing Director of DAF Trucks Belgium-Luxembourg, taking over from Marty van den Dungen, who became Director Used Trucks at DAF Trucks in Eindhoven. Bart Bosmans (36) has been working at DAF Trucks since 2004. His goal over the next few years is to further consolidate DAF’s position in
On 1 July, Bart Bosmans was appointed Managing Director of DAF Trucks Belgium-Luxembourg, taking over from Marty van den Dungen, who became Director Used Trucks at DAF Trucks in Eindhoven.
Career at DAF Trucks
Bosmans has a degree in Civil Engineering (Electromechanics) from the University of Leuven and a master’s degree in Business Economics from the Vlerick Business School. He joined DAF Trucks Westerlo’s Production Engineering department in 2004, before moving on to Quality and then Production Management. His responsibilities increased over the years and in 2012, after completing the PACCAR Leadership Development Program, he was appointed Quality Manager at DAF Trucks NV in Eindhoven.
New Director in Eindhoven
Under the leadership of Marty van den Dungen (49), DAF Trucks Belgium-Luxembourg saw its market share grow in recent years. He has now been appointed Director Used Trucks at DAF Trucks in Eindhoven.
- What if your operators could never again make mistakes during the production or assembly processes? How much time and money would that save your business? Undoubtedly enough to merit taking a look at the revolutionary solution proposed by the young engineering company Arkite. The ‘virtual guardian angel’ devised by Arkite in Genk helps operators avoid
What if your operators could never again make mistakes during the production or assembly processes? How much time and money would that save your business? Undoubtedly enough to merit taking a look at the revolutionary solution proposed by the young engineering company Arkite.
The ‘virtual guardian angel’ devised by Arkite in Genk helps operators avoid errors. Their solution is a 3D-sensor that is quick and easy to install at any workstation. Dubbed the Human Interface Mate (HIM), without actually doing the work itself this innovation helps operators do their job correctly, for example by ensuring that the right doors have been delivered for assembly and are free of manufacturing defects.
Avoiding assembly errors
The first pilot tests suggest that the HIM works well. Tower Automotive, a subsidiary of the Tower International group, is one company that has Arkite’s sensors monitoring its production line. It produces metal structures and components for the automotive industry, including car doors in Ghent.
Feedback from the first customers and demo installations show that HIMs can be deployed for any assembly work, selection tasks or to ensure that parts are correctly positioned in welding machines, bending machines or for gluing processes.
6 advantages of a virtual assistant
“If a worker has to assemble a thousand doors a day, it’s easy for human error to creep in”, Arkite’s managers, Ives De Saeger and Johan Smeyers, told Trends. “Forgetting a bolt or selecting a wrong nut for example. Our system highlights these problems during the actual assembly process, avoiding the need for subsequent corrections. The technology is designed to ascertain in real time whether the correct sequence of steps is being followed during assembly and whether the right components are being used.”
Simplicity is crucial here, as is clear from the 6 strong arguments highlighted on Arkite’s website:
- Operators can concentrate on working to deliver higher value added.
- The system is based on a blue box that uses invisible light signals to detect and flag up errors instantaneously.
- The software is intuitive and self-explanatory, enabling companies to program their own virtual assistants.
- The HIM only issues procedural instructions as and when necessary.
- The virtual sensors created eliminate the need to install or wear physical sensors attached to cables.
- Gamification encourages operators to optimise the way they work.
160 Human Interface Mates in 2017
De Saeger and Smeyers are already planning to market their HIMs in 2016 and are aiming to sell 40 units this year and quadruple that figure in 2017.
The unit cost of €17,000 euro per workstation can be recouped in between 6 months and a year.
Arkite currently has 10 employees, 6 of whom are engineers and programmers, and the company is holding talks with investors in a bid to raise capital of €1.5 million.
- Belgium’s Punch Powertrain has once again been crowned a ‘Trends Gazelle’ of the province of Limburg. Over a 10-year period the Sint-Truiden-based company’s workforce is set to complete a rise from 152 to 1,200 employees. The Belgian specialist in the development and manufacture of automatic transmissions is no stranger to awards. For example, in 2015
Belgium’s Punch Powertrain has once again been crowned a ‘Trends Gazelle’ of the province of Limburg. Over a 10-year period the Sint-Truiden-based company’s workforce is set to complete a rise from 152 to 1,200 employees.
The Belgian specialist in the development and manufacture of automatic transmissions is no stranger to awards. For example, in 2015 Punch Powertrain was named Factory of the Future, as the fastest-growing Trends Gazelle in the province of Limburg, and was distinguished as a Trends Business Tour company for its innovative and sustainable working methods. The company has also won a number of awards for its entrepreneurship.
The most prestigious recognition
A spokesman said: “This is probably the most prestigious recognition of our company and employees, and it is the result of years of effort and persistence with the company’s strategy.”
Trends Gazelles are companies ranked for growth in their sales, workforce and cash flow over a 5-year period. For instance, over that period Punch Powertrain grew from 152.3 to 325.5 employees, an increase of 173.
But its workforce is in for a further dramatic increase. “Our workforce is set to rise from its present level of 670 employees to over 1,200 by 2020″, Punch Powertrain CEO Cor Van Otterloo told Trends.
More than 250,000 transmissions
In 2014, the company sold more than 135,000 transmissions. “This year, Punch Powertrain plans to manufacture more than 250,000, nearly doubling its output. And sales should follow suit”.
The company owes this success to its speciality: automatic transmissions for smaller cars and its focus on the burgeoning Asian market, especially China, where one positive factor is that growth in the small car segment is outstripping the expansion of the overall Chinese automotive market.
Investing €400 million in growth
Over the next five years, Punch Powertrain will invest €400 million in further growth. The company is also probing new markets in India and North and South America.
Its customers include China’s BYD, Malaysia’s Proton and Geely, the Chinese owner of Volvo.
- How can we shift towards better, sustainable mobility in 2050? This is one of the questions pondered by the Flanders Institute for Mobility (VIM), now to be joined by the Antwerp Management School (AMS). The AMS is taking over the VIM in a move that will enable it to further exploit and expand the comprehensive
How can we shift towards better, sustainable mobility in 2050? This is one of the questions pondered by the Flanders Institute for Mobility (VIM), now to be joined by the Antwerp Management School (AMS).
Striving for excellence
The AMS has been offering high-quality management courses for more than 50 years, and its research provides major impetus for economic and social activities both in Belgium and abroad.
“We enter into full partnerships with companies and organisations that strive for excellence in their field,” said AMS Dean Paul Matthyssens. “We then look for synergies with our partners.”
Promising mobility projects
The VIM has already been involved in an impressive array of mobility projects, each testing smart mobility solutions in practice.
Here are three examples:
- The creation of the company Citydepot, which already manages sustainable distribution for seven cities.
- Watertruck+, which promotes transport via inland waterways. As part of this European project, a fleet of independent pushers and barges is being built.
- The Transmob project, which is currently running in and around Antwerp. The project collects and analyses mobility data, which it uses to develop and roll out smart mobility solutions.
Takeover prompted by loss of subsidies
The takeover comes as no surprise. As soon as the VIM found out that it would stop receiving Flemish subsidies on 1 January 2016, it started looking for a new financial backer. As part of AMS it can now continue its activities.
Last year, the AMS took over the design centre Flanders Inshape. This Flemish competence centre for design-driven innovation helps companies tailor their innovations to various technological, economic and social trends.
- Ten years after the start of Malmar Latvia, the Belgian company from Ghent is opening a new production facility in Bulgaria. “We are copying the strategy successfully employed for our Latvia plant”, says Koen Desimpelaere, Sales & Business Development manager at Malmar. Malmar processes steel sheet into finished products which OEMs assemble into their final
Ten years after the start of Malmar Latvia, the Belgian company from Ghent is opening a new production facility in Bulgaria. “We are copying the strategy successfully employed for our Latvia plant”, says Koen Desimpelaere, Sales & Business Development manager at Malmar.
Malmar processes steel sheet into finished products which OEMs assemble into their final products. In addition to conventional steel processing, such as laser cutting, CNC folding, robot welding and riveting, the company has a state-of-the-art paintshop in Latvia that meets the automotive sector’s most stringent requirements. Malmar is also increasingly active in the sub-assembly of lighting groups and smaller parts composed of sheet metal combined with rubber sealing, insulation, etc.
Just-in-time specialist from Ghent
The company was founded in 1947 and has been owned by current CEO Dorsan De Buysscher since 2005. It is still headquartered in Belgium.
From Ghent, Malmar directs the soon-to-be two foreign sites, makes investment decisions and handles administration and logistics. The company currently has some 15 employees in Belgium and 152 in Latvia.
“After they are produced in Latvia, all parts are sent directly to our logistics centre in Ghent”, says Koen Desimpelaere. “From there, they are sent to our customers on a just-in-time basis and in the right quantities. Our business model is based on a push-pull approach. Latvia produces larger production batches, and ‘pushes’ them to Belgium. We can perfectly meet customer demand (‘pull’) via our warehouse in Belgium. This approach eliminates a headache for our customers since we hold buffer inventory for them.”
Malmars many customers include companies such as Volvo Trucks, Volvo Buses, Renault Trucks, Caterpillar, Cargotec (Hiab & Kalmar), Atlas Copco and Dynapac.
10 years of success in Latvia
Rapid growth and high customer demand prompted Malmar to expand its production facilities to a new strategic location: Latvia, and more specifically the city of Ventspils.
Production started in July 2006, with just six employees. Over the years, Malmar Latvia has evolved into a state-of-the-art production facility and now has over 150 employees and a high-tech paintshop.
The company recently invested in two new machines: a milling machine and a welding robot. They help boost the efficiency of existing production equipment and make it possible to produce more sophisticated parts.
95% of all Malmar products is produced and finished in Latvia. Only a bit of post-production assembly is done in Ghent.
New production plant in Bulgaria
This foreign success is now set to be replicated in Bulgaria.
The team realised that ongoing growth – driven by new customers and more parts in its portfolio – required a new production facility for Malmar.
“We are proud to announce that a new production plant will open its doors in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in Q3 2016”, the company reports. “This new facility, located in southern Europe in a low-cost environment, will focus exclusively on production, leveraging the same ‘push’ principle. This means that, based on yearly quantities, it will work with maximum batch sizes and minimum setups. In turn, Malmar Belgium will maintain a reserve inventory to keep up with requested just-in-time deliveries for its customers. The new production facility will allow us to continue growing sustainably in the years ahead.”
- Belgian company Stokota is currently supplying the Ministry of Defence with the latest aircraft refuellers built on a Volvo chassis as well as five trailers. The Belgian tanker specialist is ready to claim an important position in this growing international market. Imagine receiving as many competitors as visitors at a trade show! That does not
Belgian company Stokota is currently supplying the Ministry of Defence with the latest aircraft refuellers built on a Volvo chassis as well as five trailers. The Belgian tanker specialist is ready to claim an important position in this growing international market.
Imagine receiving as many competitors as visitors at a trade show! That does not mean there were so few visitors to the Stokota booth at the biennial Inter Airport trade show in Munich – just the opposite. But a surpisingly large number of rivals came to the booth and were amazed at the results achieved from years of quiet work done in the background.
Stokota (based in Lokeren, Belgium) develops and produces tankers, vacuum trucks, aircraft refuellers and trailers, and special vehicles such as moving-floor trailers.
It is now fully engaged in the market for aircraft refuellers and hydrant dispensers.
“In contrast with the stable or shrinking market for heating oil, there are rising numbers of flights. Aircraft are all powered by jet fuel”, says CEO Ronald Lefebvre, explaining the decision to move into this market. “This could boost Stokota’s short-term revenues by 33%.”
Jet fuel for F16 and C130 aircraft
The Ministry of Defence is its first major customer. In 2013, Defence went looking for 25 aircraft refuellers and five trailers for refuelling the C130, Alpha Jet, F16 and other aircraft and helicopters. Stokota won the €5.6 million contract.
Their designs are highly integrated technically, technologically and in terms of safety – and they can be produced at competitive prices.
R&D in Belgium
Research & Devlopment is also critical to the company’s new Aviation Fuelling Vehicles division in Belgium. Production takes place in Poland. This winning combination ensures superb designs that can be produced cost-effectively.
“Technologically, we’ve taken a major step forward”, says designer and business unit manager Rein Van Den Eeckhout. “Nearly everything happens automatically, apart from connecting hoses and earthing airplanes and helicopters. Sensors detect problems and issue a warning if something goes wrong or if, say, a vent has not been properly closed. All possible safety systems are built in to it and the operator needs to do as little as possible. It’s user-friengly, ergonomic and safety.”
Annual growth exceeding 10%
Every year, Stokota builds 400 to 480 tanks, with increasing levels of automation. Accordingly, in 2014 it made investments in a 36-metre-long robot welding faciliity.
For each customer the vehicles’ modular construction means that options/features can be modified as required. This enables Stokota to provide customised solutions that are also standardised and affordable.
Stokota employs 350 people: 45 in Belgium, 25 in France and 280 in Poland. They generated revenues of €35 million in 2015, with growth of more than 10% the last two years. This trend looks set to continue in the years ahead.