download image Download the full pdf download image Download this chapter Contact us

Technology & innovation

download image Download the full pdf download image Download this chapter Contact us

Technology leadership and speed is a core strategy of Bekaert. Our activities in this field are aimed at creating value for our customers in order for our business and all our stakeholders to prosper in the long term. We co-create with customers and suppliers around the globe to develop, implement, upgrade and protect both current and future technologies. We listen to our customers so we understand their innovation and processing needs. Knowing how our products function within their production processes and products is key to developing value-creating solutions.

Transforming steel wire and applying unique coating technologies form our core business. To strengthen our technological leadership in these competencies, Bekaert invests intensively in research and development, and sees innovation as a constant, driving factor in all our activities and processes.

Innovation in practice: continuously redeploying our core competencies

In order to sustain and strengthen our technological leadership, we continue to explore new possibilities in steel wire transformation and coating technologies. Through the combination of these competencies, we influence the properties of steel such as strength, ductility, fatigue, shape, adhesion, and corrosion resistance.

Even after 140 years of expertise, there is still much to be discovered in our search for the optimal bulk and surface properties of steel wire. By maximizing the synergies between the competencies of our technologists and those of our research and business partners, we can make a real difference and draw infinite possibilities.

The Research and Innovation department is the center of expertise for Bekaert’s core technology domains: physical metallurgy, fatigue & mechanical performance, corrosion & metallic coatings, and organic coatings. In addition, it also focuses on data modeling and sensor technologies in close cooperation with the engineering and IT departments. 

In 2019, we continued to invest in the fundamental research domains that will enable us to detect and explore new opportunities for Bekaert in the future.

 
RR competencies

Acknowledgement

We wish to thank the Flemish government’s Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) agency, as well as the Belgian federal government. Their subsidies and incentives for R&D projects involving highly educated scientific staff and researchers in Flanders are essential for maintaining a foothold for R&D activities in Belgium.

Co-creation and open innovation

Bekaert actively seeks opportunities for cooperation with strategic customers, suppliers and academic research institutes and universities. The academic partnerships particularly focus on physical metallurgy, metallic coatings, modeling, and on special laboratory analysis techniques that are not available in-house.

Partnerships around the world

A new set-up to speed up new discoveries

To accelerate the creation of new technologies, products and solutions, we have implemented a set-up in line with the new organizational structure. 

  • The Business Units focus on further developing products for existing markets with existing technologies. In general, business-specific expertise will remain and develop within the related BU, which allows the teams to better align the technology efforts with the BU priorities and with the customer needs. As part of the restructuring in Belgium, some development and lab activities that used to be centralized in the Technology Center in Deerlijk (Belgium), have been moved to production locations abroad. This relocation should bring new developments into production faster and at a lower cost.
  • The market-oriented Strategy, Portfolio and Innovation team discovers and transforms ideas into opportunities that bring value to our customers. The team supports the business units in their search for new applications and solutions that might benefit from their products. In 2019, the team further researched the focus areas polymer & composite reinforcement, digital business, superconductivity and additive manufacturing. 
  • When we want to venture into new markets that require competences and technologies that are beyond our core, Bekaert chooses to drive innovation together with partners to boost innovation in an efficient way.  
  • Finally, Bekaert’s center of expertise in Research and Innovation (R&I) continues its fundamental research into our core technology domains and provides expertise to each business unit. In recent years, the sustained push for ultra-tensile wire strengths was a showcase of this type of evolution. R&I also keeps working on process development and cross-unit competence building and sharing. 

Research and Innovation as a driver for value creation

Removing cobalt from tire makers’ production processes

More key customers are testing tire cord with our revolutionary coating TAWI® or ‘Ternary Alloy Wire’ coating. This tire cord coating enables tire makers to make their processes cleaner as it eliminates the need to add cobalt to their rubber compounds.

Increasing rubber hose manufacturers’ production output

Bekaert has created a double hose reinforcement wire that allows hose manufacturers to add twice the number of wires to a bundle without extra machine investments. Hose manufacturers are limited by the number of spool positions on their rewinders to create wire bundles. By offering a double wire, Bekaert removes this limitation and allows its customers to add two wires per spool to the bundle. An additional benefit is that the wire tension and length are more controlled. This reduces the need to tune the rewinder, while resulting in more consistent processing during braid hose manufacturing.  

Intellectual property

The Intellectual Property department of Bekaert takes care of patents, designs, trademarks, domain names and trade secrets for the whole Bekaert Group, including the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group and the joint ventures in Brazil, through its teams in Belgium and China. It also advises on IP clauses in various agreements such as joint development agreements and licenses. 

Reliable IP protection policies have made Bekaert a trusted partner of customers and suppliers around the world. In the course of 2019, the patent position of the newly developed Murfor® Compact was strengthened with patent grants worldwide. We also stopped various trademark infringements on Dramix® and Bekaert in Turkey, Vietnam and on Chinese websites.

In 2019, we filed 29 first patent applications. At the end of 2019, the Bekaert Group had a portfolio of almost 1 800 patents and patent applications.

Engineering

Equipped for Excellence

Bekaert’s in-house engineering department plays a key role in the optimization and standardization of our production processes and machinery. In addition to designing, manufacturing and integrating available engineering solutions, this department installs and services the critical equipment in our production plants worldwide.
Bekaert can quickly react to capacity adjustment needs thanks to its engineering department. Because the technology needs are well known and understood, lead times are short and flexibility is high. 

Newly designed equipment always combines innovative solutions for performance improvements in various areas, including product quality, production excellence and flexibility, and cost efficiency. Our main focus areas are machine safety, ergonomics and the environmental impact.

Value engineering

Bekaert Engineering makes make-or-buy decisions based on various factors, including cost-effectiveness, technology lead, and IP protection. To this end, the team actively screens the market for new technologies and trends and explores partnership opportunities to constantly improve Bekaert’s equipment and manufacturing excellence. 

Our engineers and technicians use their broad experience to participate in creating the “Bekaert factory of the future”. They do this by working on high performing, innovative equipment at a low operational cost, machines that require minimal changeover time, and ensuring maximum automation and robotics. Great effort is taken to automate equipment, allowing machine operators to optimally use their expertise on tasks with added value. 

In line with the better together philosophy, the engineering teams interact with and stimulate each other to develop and deliver the best solutions for and together with the business. Under the umbrella of Bekaert Manufacturing System, the engineering department collaborates with IT and Research and Innovation to explore Industry 4.0 innovations that offer new inroads for product and process improvements. We are looking at how these advances may enable a new manufacturing set-up in the long term and a vision for servicing the equipment along its lifetime in our plants. 

Factory automation and a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) are enablers to optimize productivity. The interconnection and digitalization show in the increased use of sensors and robotics. Advanced sensors and measuring tools are increasingly being integrated into Bekaert’s manufacturing equipment in order to control the specification tolerances during various production steps. This enhances Bekaert’s product quality testing capability in all critical process stages and guarantees fault-free products for the customers.

Engineering in a nutshell

  • Bekaert’s in-house engineering department employs an international team of more than 550 engineers and technicians. 
  • The engineering teams are located in Belgium, China, India, Slovakia, the US and Brazil. The Belgian team focuses on the conceptual design and prototyping of new equipment, while the production of standard equipment is done in China and India. The teams in China, India, Slovakia, the US and Brazil provide on-site services to the Bekaert plants worldwide.
  • As Bekaert is expanding worldwide, Bekaert Engineering has positioned its engineering entities within the various regions to ensure optimal and speedy support for the production facilities.
  • As part of the Belgian restructuring and a more focused mission for Bekaert Engineering, the central spare parts sourcing and distribution activities have been moved from Belgium to Slovakia, closer to where they are needed.
  • Bekaert’s engineering team is constantly looking for internal and external opportunities for total cost reduction. It also looks for disruptive innovative engineering solutions for new products and processes in close cooperation with the technology centers. Furthermore, Bekaert Engineering ensures excellent assembly, installation and maintenance services, and coordinates global spare parts management.
  • All activities of the engineering department are rooted in two foundations: creating safe equipment and enabling operational excellence throughout the lifetime of the machine. 
R&I matrix