Creating the maximal value in the supply chain with the aid of internet and strategic partners in an open environment ̶ this was the basic principle defined at the Hannover Messe in various ways: smart factories, factory of the future, Industry 4.0 and internet of things. Essentially all these concepts have the same objective. With regard to TenCate, this basic principle has been an important part of its strategy for years, and txtures discussed this with Frank Spaan, corporate director business development of TenCate.
Flexibility in production and volume is being created by further digitalization, automation or robotization. This leads to more efficient use of raw materials, a lower failure rate in production, a considerable increase in innovation, and a growing ability to respond more effectively to customer needs. Every company, however, implements this in its own way. ‘And that includes us,’ says Frank Spaan. ‘Furthermore it applies to the production not only of protective and outdoor fabrics, but also of composites, synthetic turf and geotextiles.’
‘From a strategic perspective, we have a road map based on three main spear points for every development at TenCate,’ continues Frank Spaan. ‘First of all it’s a matter of “sustainable, clean and smart production” – therefore smart clean production with as little wastage as possible. In line or in combination with this, TenCate aims at (cheaply) producing smart materials with a highly distinctive capability and a higher added value through deploying new technologies. And lastly smart distribution to the market via partnerships and e-commerce is strategically important.’
‘In Nijverdal, TenCate now has demonstrable results within the innovation project Factory of the future relating to developments in the field of digital inkjet technology. Moreover with a UV printer (dot on demand) and an Osiris printer (continuous flow) we have two complementary state-of-the-art technologies under one roof to apply functional coatings to a substrate. In addition other technologies, such as plasma technology and new flame-retardant technologies, are being investigated within the framework of the innovation project. Here the aim is not only to maintain but also to expand the leading market position of TenCate in the future. The world doesn’t stand still. As a manufacturing industry, you must continue to innovate technologically. In this respect we are fortunate to receive some support from Europe, the Dutch government and the province of Overijssel.’
Pioneer in digitalization
With the revolutionary inkjet technology, TenCate is even a pioneer when it comes to digitalizing processes in the field of (technical) textiles. The developments have been a long time in coming because textile is a complex product, with different substrate characteristics. Likewise inkjet is also a complex technology and the inks or coating fluids all need to be specially developed. According to Frank Spaan, TenCate leads the way but, given that the first solutions are now market-ready, it is time to make waves in the market. ‘The difference nowadays is that we must be more open about our developments. Partnerships and licences are becoming increasingly important, not only through open innovation but also in the marketing of technology. In several manufacturing processes we are a link in the chain, and we have to work together with partners to roll out complex technologies on the market successfully. So it becomes much more quickly a matter of proven technology and creating a new standard.’
North Netherlands: region of smart factories
Under the name Region of Smart Factories (RoSF), an extensive network of companies and knowledge institutes in North Netherlands has taken the initiative to develop new technologies over the coming years that will enable the productivity of the manufacturing industry to be substantially improved. Among the participants are Fokker, IBM, Philips, TenCate, the University of Twente and a number of universities of applied sciences.