At Thor Park in Genk, 16 million euros will be invested in a brand new facility for smart manufacturing companies. It is the first step in the realisation of a smart manufacturing campus on site. The smart manufacturing campus will provide 600 extra jobs and together with the other ambitions at Thor Park, the site should generate 5,000 extra jobs within the next ten years. The first module of the new campus being realised is 8,000 m² in size and consists of production halls, office spaces, labs and test facilities. In these labs and test facilities, processes for automation, digitisation and robotisation can be developed and tested. Unique in this approach is that the production, office and test spaces in the building can be flexibly rented by manufacturing companies. Partners of the project are the city of Genk, LRM, KU Leuven, Flanders Make, SIRRIS and POM Limburg. The smart manufacturing building can count on 5.2 million euros from ERDF and 1 million euros in additional support from the Flemish Minister of Economy Hilde Crevits. The smart manufacturing building will be inaugurated at the end of 2022. The Brussels architectural firm XDGA was appointed for the design.
Thor Park in Genk, covering 89 hectares, is a global redevelopment project on the former mining site of Waterschei (Genk). Under the impulse of the Limburg Investment Company LRM, the city of Genk and KU Leuven, the site is being transformed into a hotspot for smart and sustainable innovation with a focus on energy transition, smart manufacturing and smart cities. Today the first step has been taken for the development of a brand new smart manufacturing campus.
Submitting the construction application for the smart manufacturing building is the first step in realising a smart manufacturing campus at Thor Park. The start of the construction phase is planned for autumn, completion of the building is foreseen for the end of 2022. The building consists of three layers. The first layer focuses on a production hall on the ground floor, lab and/or test spaces on the first floor and office and meeting rooms on the second floor. This classification is important for the formation of the aspired ecosystem. The various companies, start-ups and scale-ups as well as SMEs and large (international) companies, will be able to meet more easily this way, which makes collaborations easier. Through these partnerships, companies can innovate their production process or work together on innovative technologies. The intention is to grow the smart manufacturing building over time from 8,000 m² to a total of 30,000 m².
The investment of 16 million euros is partly made possible thanks to funding from ERDF and Flemish Minister of Economy Hilde Crevits.
Flemish Minister of Economy, Hilde Crevits: ‘The closure of Ford Genk is still fresh in our minds. At the time it especially hit the Limburg manufacturing industry. Fortunately, the SALK plan has put Limburg back on the map by creating more jobs than were originally lost due to the closure. Today, the technology park is strong with companies such as EnergyVille, T2-campus, Thor Central and IncubaThor. With a view on the digital future, Thor Park now wants to attract new manufacturing companies and enable a unique range of services, buildings and facilities. The concept of a smart manufacturing building should encourage collaborations and provides business space for manufacturing companies that would like to have all the already existing assets in their vicinity. That is also the reason why we invest more than 6 million euros in the park.’
Rental formula for manufacturing companies
The manufacturing industry in Limburg is and will remain an important engine for the economy. It indirectly creates a multitude of jobs in other sectors too. The theme ‘Industry 4.0’ is the common thread in the development of the smart manufacturing campus. Industry 4.0. allows companies to intelligently compete with low-wage countries.
Tom Vanham, general manager of LRM and chairman of Thor Park: ‘To fill in the available spaces, we look at software and hardware companies, manufacturing companies, but also companies that work on process automation, smart and efficient logistics or storage are very welcome. We offer spaces in a rental formula. This concept is already familiar on campuses where offices are rented out, but are unique for manufacturing and production environments.
Start-ups in manufacturing
What is now one building must further develop into an entire smart manufacturing campus where different types of manufacturing companies are active. The intention is that they actively look for synergies and collaborations within the typical campus philosophy.
Joris Merckx, general manager of Thor Park: ‘Not only mature companies are welcome at Thor Park, start-ups are equally welcome here. Incubation work in the manufacturing industry is something completely new and does not exist yet, we want to change that. As companies grow from start-up to scale-up, they can use this Design for Manufacturing concept to build a volume production outside Thor Park. This allows them to create both economic and social added value. I am also pleased with the commitment of POM Limburg, which has promised to controbute to the development of an ecosystem around smart manufacturing in Limburg.’
Knowledge and R&D
Koen Debackere and Michael De Blauwe, managing director and business development manager of KU Leuven Research & Development: ‘Where energy and Industry 4.0 meet each other, nowhere in Flanders do you have a higher concentration of known knowledge and research institutions than at Thor Park. Just look at EnergyVille where imec, KU Leuven, VITO and UHasselt join forces. That statement is even stronger now that SIRRIS and AMS are the first candidates to take part in the smart manufacturing building. The specialised investment fund Industrya will also take a spot and use the facilities of this new hotspot. The manufacturing and industrial companies that establish themselves here will receive scientific knowledge and support in the field of R&D on a golden platter. As a USP for Thor Park, that can count.’
5,000 new jobs
Wim Dries, mayor of the city of Genk, is pleased with the additional employment that the smart manufacturing building will generate in Genk: ‘The smart manufacturing building will, in the future, attract new activity and create 5,000 jobs on the site. Thor Park is above all a pleasant workplace in the middle of newly restored heritage and unspoiled nature. Due to the presence of both the courses in the Talent & Technology Campus, the presence of numerous start-ups in IncubaThor, the renowned research institute EnergyVille, and the MICE possibilities within the Thor Central building, it already has an important mix of expertise and entrepreneurship on site.’