Skip to main content

Operator support

In an Industry 4.0 production context the operator will not be omitted, but he will be working more efficiently thanks to several smart technologies, such augmented reality and virtual reality, cobots, Internet of Things, ... How to decide which technologies can bring added value and how to implement these technologies for which application? Sirris disposes of the necessary expertise and infrastructure to help companies with this: in Kortrijk we have created "Smart Assembly & Production" application lab. In Hasselt Sirris focuses in the contect of VLAIO's Operator Support Living Lab ("Proeftuin Operatorondersteuning") on operator supporting technologies and applications through generic demonstrators at the disposal of the companies. In Leuven we immerge ourselves in topics as the flexible composite production automation.

Sirris Application Labs, Kortrijk helps companies test innovative operator support options

Industry 4.0 potentially brings new technology to your production area: augmented and virtual reality, collaborative robots, big data, the Internet of Things, etc. Innovation is necessary, but how do we determine whether new technology or digital innovation would bring added value to a company? The Industry 4.0 expertise of knowledge centres in West Flanders has been pooled in five brand new testing facilities: the Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics labs. The official opening took place on 13 June.


The five labs together work together to provide answers to a wide range of the challenges companies are currently facing. Their objective is to make high-end demonstration and test infrastructure available to manufacturing companies. Three of these new facilities are located in Kortrijk, including the "Smart Assembly & Production" and "Smart Production Organisation" Sirris Application labs on Ghent University’s Kortrijk campus.


At the "Smart Assembly & Production" application lab, Sirris has created a test environment for manufacturing companies to experiment with innovative technology, to support tasks performed by operators, such as assembly work. Our aim is to analyse the optimisation of the division of labour between robots and people, to ensure they work together safely. The lab has an industrial robot which can work safely together with an operator. A mobile robot optimises the supply and removal of components to and from the cell.


The Smart Production Organisation Lab improves existing production systems by creating an exact virtual replica. Simulations predict potential operational improvements in the production system.

Improved productivity and competitiveness based on operator support

The workload in our industry is growing as a direct result of increasing production complexity, shorter product life cycles and increasing quality demands. Technical staff are scarce and it remains difficult to successfully balance complexity and work. Operator support during the production process is essential to take on greater workload challenges while remaining competitive. New technology can help. Companies can contact Sirris to find out more about these developments and to test them. 


The objective of our Operator Support Living Lab is to set up technologies and applications using generic demonstrators that we make available to your companies. These demonstrators – six of which will be used in the joint project – will be showcased at various events, including workshops. The intention is to help companies embark on their journey towards Industry 4.0.


Specific topics at the Proeftuin include physical support for operators when performing repetitive, taxing tasks or those that add little overall value (where cobots or robots are used as assistants), and digital support for information transfer relating to a specific task (digital work instructions, augmented reality, wearables, etc.).

Flexible automation of composite production

Lightweight structures are no longer required in the automotive and aviation industries only, but are gaining ground in many other sectors. Fibre-reinforced plastics are a promising alternative to traditional materials, given their combination of lightweight and outstanding mechanical properties. The production of composite materials is, however, under constant pressure from low-wage countries, especially where small batches of medium- to high- complexity products are made. Large companies have their own automated production plants with specific production systems. These are too expensive for SMEs, which need greater flexibility in such a labour-intensive production system.


Cornet project Composites Reloaded – a partnership between Sirris and the Institute of Textile Technology (ITA) at RWTH Aachen University – aims to introduce flexible automation to the composite industry, especially to SMEs that produce fibre-reinforced plastics using cobots and semi-automated production cells. The project is developing product strategies and a cost calculation tool to semi-automate production of fibre-reinforced plastics. This provides the target audience with guidelines on how to implement critical production process steps using cobots in a semi-automated production environment. 


During the Company Open Day, Sirris hosted two presentations on the demonstrator production cells developed as part of the project.

A cobot adds composite material to an aeroplane component

This demo shows how automation can result in higher-quality and cheaper composite products for the aviation industry. When producing composite products, textiles are often manually draped in a controlled and complex manner to create a 3D shape. This is a labour-intensive task. In conjunction with RWTH Aachen and KU Leuven, Sirris is working on a European research programme into how automation can lead to higher-quality, cheaper products by implementing faster and more controlled processes. The demo shows an automation concept for the production of an aircraft wing stiffener, whereby the pre-impregnated fabrics (“pre-pregs”) are draped layer by layer and pressed on a foam core, which is then cured in an autoclave.

Flexible automation of composite production using cobots

When producing composite products, textiles are draped in a controlled and often complex manner to create a 3D shape. These complex tasks are often performed manually, resulting in a labour-intensive process. Sirris has investigated how automation leads to higher-quality, cheaper products by implementing faster and more controlled processes. A demo showed how cobots can be deployed when draping fabric. The concept is intended to be applied to smaller batches and wider ranges of products. The cobot receives the information on the correct lay-up from the detection system, thus eliminating the risk of human error. The cobot then moves to the appropriate stack of textiles. The draping tool picks up the four corners of the fibre ply with four grippers, takes it to the mould and places it there. An operator can complete the draping, then instruct the cobot to bring the next layer.