ENGIE Fabricom places great importance on research and development. Why?
Bruno Depré: ‘We don’t innovate just to be innovative. We have concrete ambitions for every R&D project that we implement. What really interests us is the concrete translation of this research into our activities.’
Which resources are used?
B.D.: ‘In reality, we don’t have a huge, streamlined team and budget. We work the other way around: we seek an innovation which could create value and then engage the necessary resources to realise it. Admittedly, this always requires a little more time but once a project is on track, there is a good chance that it will deliver results. Ultimately, this is a very interesting approach.’
Innovation serving efficiency
And what does this mean, in practice?
B.D.: ‘The added value of innovation can take two forms. On the one hand, it lets us improve our customer service. On the other, it offers direct benefits for our employees. To give you an example, one of the large projects which we are currently working on relates to the development of augmented reality or added reality. We are carrying out research into safety helmets with a visor which can display useful information for the employee. This allows him to keep his hands free when he has to read an instruction, for example. And means he can work far more efficiently.’
What other research are you conducting at the moment?
B.D.: ‘There are currently four large projects on the go. Alongside the added reality project, we are also focusing on research involving drones. We have developed two useful drones for electricity networks which we are currently testing. The first can be used to connect high-voltage cables, a job which is usually carried out by helicopters. The second can be used to clean insulators. We also have research projects on the Internet of Things, such as smart meters. The fourth is a very important project which centres on 3D printing.’
What does the 3D printing project involve?
B.D.: ‘It is one of the most important projects we're currently working on. We set up the project in partnership with ENGIE Laborelec and the KU Leuven. We aim to print metal parts using a 3D printer. The printer uses a laser which melts metal into powder and can then create objects, layer by layer. It’s a revolutionary technology.’
How long have you been working on this pioneering technology?
B.D.: ‘The projects has been on the go for two years now and we've made some significant progress. At the moment, we are verifying which industrial applications may be possible. We are developing various, interesting trains of thought.’
Can you gives us any details?
B.D.: ‘3D printing means that highly sophisticated components can be manufactured; things that just aren't feasible with other processes. We will be able to develop new and unique components which will improve a range of technologies. Another highlight of 3D printing is that existing parts can be reproduced quickly because they can be made immediately and on location, i.e. internally. It’s another significant breakthrough with huge consequences in terms of logistics.’
Why are you investing so much in this technology?
B.D.: ‘3D printing is a huge technological revolution with enormous potential. It is an investment which is very interesting in the long-term. In Belgium, we are one of the leaders in terms of this technology. This enables us to offer our customers genuine added value in this context.’
Does ENGIE Fabricom have to be a leading light in innovation?
B.D.: ‘Absolutely! We live in a world where the pace of change is accelerating. We have to think and proceed efficiently, with a future-focused view. We also work for substantial partners in all activity sectors. Partners that expect innovation and whose challenges push us to keep on innovating.’