Technology and innovation

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 137 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. 

Innovation in a nutshell

  • In 2017, we invested € 63 million in R&D, net of investment grants.
  • An international team of more than 450 R&D specialists develops new products and process innovations.
  • Bekaert operates two main technology centers, one in Belgium and one in China, and various development centers worldwide. 
  • Additionally, the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group has a technology center in the UK for steel and synthetic rope development and testing. 
Wire Association International awards Bekaert for research
Bekaert is the 2017 winner of Wire Association International’s (WAI) annual Allan B. Dove Memorial medal award in the Ferrous Division category for its paper ‘Quenched and partitioned steel wires: process, characterization and properties’. The Wire Association International, Inc. is a worldwide technical society for wire and cable industry professionals that collects and shares technical, manufacturing and general business information. Since 1934, WAI’s annual medal awards praise the most commendable technical papers on wire manufacture or fabrication.

Intellectual Property

  • IP protection at Bekaert consists of patent and design protection, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements and more. It applies to products and brands, processes and equipment, as well as exclusive development and test programs in collaboration with customers, suppliers and research partners. Reliable IP protection policies have made Bekaert a trusted partner of customers around the world.
  • In 2017, the Bekaert Intellectual Property Department filed 44 first patent applications. By the end of 2017, Bekaert — including Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group — had a portfolio of more than 1650 patents and patent applications. 
  • Substantial progress was made in the granting of relevant patents covering the new generation of building products: the engineered concrete reinforcing fibers Dramix® 4D and 5D, the masonry reinforcement Murfor® Compact, and the new road reinforcement Fortifix®.  
  • There were many first patent filings related to new generation heat exchangers and gas burners. 
  • Bekaert initiated two patent infringement proceedings against competitors in the course of 2017. Furthermore, Bekaert was able to stop trademark infringement on several e-commerce internet sites.

R&D as a driver for value creation

  • Bekaert’s super-tensile and ultra-tensile steel cord ranges for tire reinforcement allow tire makers to produce tires with a lower weight, thinner plies, and lower rolling resistance. Moreover, ultra-tensile steel cord is, when considering the total cost of ownership, less expensive than the conventional steel cord it replaces. For the end user this results in reduced CO2 emission and lower fuel consumption. The highest tensile strength cords made by Bekaert currently enable a decrease of cord weight by over 30% compared to normal tensile strength cords. In 2017, Bekaert continued to grow the market penetration of these advanced steel cords, as more tire manufacturers recognize the value of designing high-end quality tires at a lower total cost. 
  • Bekaert continuously aligns its test methods with the customers. As a result, we carried out substantially more cyclic corrosion tests in 2017 compared with the year before, since this is becoming increasingly more important as a supplier to the automotive industry. 
  • The search for higher tensile strengths has resulted in new developments for overhead power lines. Aluminum-conductor steel reinforced (ACSR) cables have a steel core used for support. These thinner and lighter ultra- or mega-tensile steel cores, produced by Bekaert, allow overhead power line manufacturers to add more aluminum and, as a result, cut power losses by 20%.
  • Mega- and giga-tensile steel wire also reinforces aluminum conductor steel supported (ACSS) cables. Our steel cores can as much as double the conductor capacity by transferring more power at higher temperatures while preventing the cables from sagging. Mega-tensile cores are about 53% stronger than standard cores, while giga-tensile wires are as much as 63% stronger. 
  • Wire coated with Bezinal® XC or XP competes with stainless steel wire for use in medical applications. Bezinal® XP excels in corrosion and cathodic protection, while Bezinal® XC is characterized by a very stable coating integrity that can withstand heavy deformation without losing overall performance. In doing so, both coatings address several market demands, such as the increased need for miniaturization, prolonged shelf life and cost-efficient production. Last year a key industry player successfully used Bezinal® coated steel wires to make springs for auto-injector pens for medical use. 
  • Bekaert’s Advanced Design Center (ADC) is at the intersection of product development and market research for flat & shaped products. Responding to customer demand, Bekaert has developed hard drawn rectangular shaped wire with a very consistent edge geometry. Compared to traditional round wires with the same product properties, these rectangular wires are stronger. Customers can either produce lighter and smaller springs with comparable spring loads as round wire, or use the same size springs with higher load capacities.
  • Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group is at the forefront of the most innovative ropes.
    • A new synthetic rope has been developed for subsea infrastructure mooring. The new ScanRope product was constructed from Spectra® S1000 SuperLine™ (HMPE) and is protected by an advanced abrasion / particle resistant jacket, as a better and more durable alternative to traditional subsea infrastructure mooring systems.
    • The ScanRope MoorLine deep water mooring line, a 280mm diameter fiber rope, with its load bearing material sheathed with an advanced particle filter system and protected by an abrasion resistant polyester jacket, was designed with a minimum break force of 2 500 tons.

      BBRG ScanRope
    • Several trials are running successfully in mines across the world with a highly innovative hybrid rope. The trials show promising results in terms of the rope’s performance and lifetime and are projected to reveal the application and business potential in the course of 2018.

  • Last but not least, Bekaert successfully developed a 3rd generation sawing wire technology and product. The diamond wire, developed by the sawing wire R&D team in China, has been tested and approved by all targeted customers. This successful development is an illustration of Bekaert’s technology leadership and speed and will be gearing our sawing wire business for the future.

Co-creation and open innovation

Bekaert actively seeks opportunities for cooperation with strategic customers, suppliers and academic research institutes and universities. In 2017, these partnerships have been especially successful in the domains of physical metallurgy, metallic coatings and modeling.
Technology partnerships 2017
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 in securing a foothold for our R&D activities in Belgium..

Innovation & Venturing

Through its innovation & venturing department, Bekaert invests in funds that have a finger on the pulse of technology. In 2017, Bekaert joined the Emerald Technology Ventures fund with a focus on advanced materials. Just like the other funds in which Bekaert participates, Emerald offers access to many start-up companies, which gives Bekaert early insight into what is happening in the field of technology. 

Our focus is on young companies that have developed a new technology that might form the missing link to a project, or improve our processes, or a new opportunity that could disrupt our business. When we spot a relevant start-up, we approach them to cooperate in a way that benefits both parties. This could be through a licensing or commercial agreement, or through joint development. 

One such example is the investment in Epoch Wires, a UK start-up producing superconductive wire. This type of wire could strongly reduce the cost of wind turbines, medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and energy storage and transmission systems. Bekaert added management expertise and technical support, enabling the young company to advance its research and expand commercially. 
In September 2017, Epoch Wires was featured in the United Kingdom’s ‘Manufacturing & Services Industry’ edition of The Parliamentary Review. The Review is a series of independent publications from award-winning journalists and industry experts. The Parliamentary Review provides a comprehensive summary of best practices among Britain’s policy makers and business leaders. Every year, its publication is presented at a gala in the Palace of Westminster.

Another focus area in innovation is additive manufacturing, wherein Bekaert is exploring opportunities to add value and to accelerate the adoption of 3D printing of metal or metal-reinforced parts. Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group showed the way by enabling the construction of the world’s first 3D-printed concrete bridge.

BBRG advanced cords used in world’s first 3D-printed bridge
In October 2017, the world’s first 3D-printed concrete bridge was officially opened in Gemert (the Netherlands). During the printing process, advanced cords were added to the bridge elements, so that no tensile stress can occur in the concrete. The ultra-strong and flexible solution provided by the Bridon-Bekaert plant in Aalter (Belgium) was a less than 1 mm thin FLEX 0.9 cord.

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.

Building the Factory of the Future

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. 

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 defect-free products for the customers.

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. 

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. Encouraged by the Must Win Battle ‘Fit for Growth’, Bekaert Engineering will focus even more on innovative initiatives driving value.
Bekaert Engineering organizes Total Quality Management challenge
Cross-functional teams at Bekaert Engineering in Belgium, China and Slovakia participated in a challenge to improve total quality management (TQM). In eight months, the teams went from brainstorming to implementing ideas for improvement. At the end of the challenge, the teams presented their work to their colleagues. CEO Matthew Taylor awarded the team that applied the total quality management way-of-working the best with the TQM trophy.

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, USA 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, USA 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.
  • 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.