It is sometimes said that Belgium is no longer a nation of industry, that China has mostly taken over our means of production and we now produce capital mainly from services. Though it may be true that international competition is fiercer than ever, Belgium is still home to several world-leading manufacturing companies. These companies are successful, not due to low wages or access to natural resources, because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to their knowhow and technology. A sentiment shared by (amongst others) industry titan Charles Beauduin, who believes that technological progress is the only way for European manufacturers to survive. To make sure our local manufacturers take full advantage of that technological edge, we are launching Cronos4Industry, an initiative that aims to bring Belgium’s largest tech organization and manufacturing companies even closer together.
Bridging the Gap
For those who are still unaware, Cronos is a Belgian IT group with over 7000 employees but is made up of hundreds of ventures. These ventures each have their own specialty, and frequently collaborate to tackle larger projects. “Cronos is one of the biggest - and best, in my opinion - Belgian IT companies for a reason,” Neal Van Maele, one of the fierce believers behind C4I, begins, “thanks to our unique company structure we are able to provide enterprise level services without compromising on the much-needed agility to cope with the volatility of today’s business environment.”
But even though qualities like flexibility, scalability and security are common practice (and essential) in IT, Operational Technology (OT) divisions within manufacturing companies usually have different primary concerns. “I started out as a researcher in agro-food where I need to bridge IT and OT systems, and what I found was that IT and OT simply weren’t speaking the same language,” Koen Rutten, founder & technical lead at C4I, elaborates, “while IT likes to talk about flexible & scalable systems, OT is mostly focused on reliability above all else. Which makes sense, given that half an hour of downtime can potentially cost a lot of money.”
Though long separated, the potential gains from digitalization are rapidly forcing the worlds of IT and OT together. “The potential of data in manufacturing is simply staggering,” Koen continues, “A lot of companies possess an absolute goldmine of historical data, but even a few weeks of production data can give a major boost to continuous improvement efforts”
“On both efficiency and reliability, leveraging data can provide gains that are simply unheard of in the world of OT. Technologies like predictive maintenance and statistical process analysis are fully mature and now we feel the time is right to bridge the gap to ensure our local companies keep the competitive edge in the world market,” Neal adds, “but to do this properly, you need people that understand both worlds, and that’s where Cronos4Industry comes in.”
“Being part of the Cronos Group means being part of a wide network of expertise that covers nearly every aspect and technology in the world of IT,” Neal concludes, “our job is to consolidate that expertise and translate it to the world of OT. As a proud West-Flemish entrepreneur I got involved in this initiative simply because I knew there was a huge demand that wasn’t being filled”
Set up & Go
“The cloud is an amazing facilitator for our way of working, especially when it comes to data,” Koen continues, “We can set-up a secure & scalable environment, import data, and gain insights in a matter of hours. Once these initial demonstrators have evolved into production-ready applications we can then determine with the client which applications can continue to run into the cloud, and which ones need to run locally.”
Starting small and growing gradually is part of the Cronos philosophy, and C4I aims to bring this approach to their clients as well. “We noticed that there is a lot of anxiety in manufacturing companies when it comes to new technologies,” Neal notes, “Which is why we try to show the value of a certain technology as quickly as possible. Providing for a quick ROI on the first project(s) before diving into full scaled solutions. Once our clients are convinced of the added value we can move forward with the necessary buy-in to turn a project into a scalable and repeatable success story”.
So, are you one of those manufacturers who is always looking for a way to optimize your processes in terms of reliability, quality and efficiency? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and we will be more than happy to talk possibilities.