January 23rd & 24th Agoria and Sirris invited a group of 12 industry professionals, amongst which 6 Belgian Factories of the Future, for a visit to two SEW Eurodrive factories that serve as an international Industry 4.0 benchmark. 

A recently published German university research (worth 250M Euro) on internal factory logistics reveals 3 key trends for future manufacturing success :

  1. Fully flexible, modular production plants that can handle ever more complex demand forecasts because of increasing customization. The modularity requires a consequent decentralisation of (most of the time ERP-linked) systems in order to remain independent from the building infrastructure as much as possible
  2. Digital simulation of production plants and processes, ‘to know at any moment what we will get for which amount of money”.  Whenever a change is required in a production system, a digital simulation is performed in order to assess the consequences of the engineering change.
  3. Paradigm shift in internal logistics, to prevent expensive running production systems of becoming obsolete when technology changes happen.  In rigid, conveyor based automation systems the reluctance to even changing a few lines of PLC code is high.  Modular, decentral, infrastructure independent systems take away this barrier.

Whereas the real Industry 4.0 hype actually started during the Hannover Fair in 2011, SEW already started in 2001 to learn and to grow into the new plant concepts as described above.

The key principles applied @ SEW Eurodrive concentrated around creating the production plant with the highest possible flexibility where people will continue to be at the center of the value chain, telling the machines what to do (and not the other way around).

This “decentral” and “self optimisation” production philosophy is far away from the “dark, unmanned factory” in the CIM concept of the late 80’s,  where everything from planning to production should have been controlled by a central computer.

Robots & machines are being used for their

People contribute by using their

  • Tireless precision
  • Strength
  • Reproduction ability
  • Endurance


  • Intuition
  • Flexibility

needed in an environment where production lines produce an ever growing variety of products


Every SEW Sm@rt Factory is composed of several Sm@rt Factory Units that consist of Sm@rt production cells. The production cells focus on product optimization, co-operative leadership, agile error & problem solving and apply lean concepts as a design basis to the largest extent possible. Sm@rt Factory Units act as ‘factories within the factory’ with a decentralized responsibility. As a logical consequence, Sm@rt Factory unit leaders have no office, instead they reside on the shopfloor!

At the highest Sm@rt Factory level the Cyber Physical Production Systems are being organized by looking at the Unit-level as a kind of network where you can easily connect production devices onto. Look at it like a printer you install in your home, and that immediately announces itself to your private Wifi-network for immediate usage.

The second day we visited the Graben-Neudorf factory, one of SEW’s first factories that is being transformed into the new Sm@rt Factory concept. The factory produces 2300 customer specific units every day in a one piece flow assembly flow, meaning that every product has a specific customer link.

At the Graben plant, every assembly island is uniquely designed with prime focus on assembly time reduction (16hrs factory lead time has been reduced to 8hrs!) , flexibility increase and ergonomics of the workplace. Lean & Industry 4.0 principles are combined through mobile assembly stations that autonomously choose free workstation. One of the key benefits has been the fact that rush orders don’t need to be pushed (and monitored by an operator) anymore through the assembly line.

In the afternoon we visited SEW’s brand new ‘glass factory’ @ Haguenau-Brumath (France) factory where ao AC motors up to 7,5kW are being produced using 26 assembly lines, being supported by 37 AGV’s doing more than 500km every day.

Watch some inspiring video’s of SEW’s new ‘glass factory’ in Brumath as well as ‘Industry 4.0 refurbished’ Graben factory.