Prefamac & Flanders Make: a sweet partnership for tailor-made chocolates
Belgian chocolate is known throughout the world. But also as a manufacturer of chocolate machines we are among the world’s best. Prefamac is a world player. For more than 30 years, they have been manufacturing chocolate machines for manufacturers of biscuits, waffles and pralines. Their machines can melt, flake, cool, swirl, transport, heat and so on. Permanent innovation is key for this company. Flanders Make helped them in this search for innovation through a close collaboration, which resulted in the development of a chocolate machine that improves chocolate dosing and is able to create unique chocolates or biscuits. Prefamac needs innovative machines to remain a leading global player in this market.
Like any other sector, the chocolate industry is experiencing an increasing demand for tailor-made products, with shorter delivery terms and preferably at no extra cost. This is a huge challenge because traditional chocolate production machines are often designed for mass production, making large quantities of the same praline. Custom-made and complex shapes in a small quantity are often still processed according to traditional methods. This requires specific professional expertise and is therefore a slow and expensive process.
'Today’s consumers are continually in search of something different, something new, something unique. That requires permanent innovation', says Myriam Schepers, manager of Prefamac Chocolate Machines. 'We always want to be one step ahead of the competition by developing innovative machines.'
The company has creative staff to guide that quest for innovation, but finding the right technically skilled people is difficult. Therefore, they make optimal use of available support programmes, such as strategic advice, innovation projects, feasibility studies and the SME portfolio, in view of bringing in additional expertise. 'For companies that want to innovate and wish to grow on an international scale, there are quite a few financial and innovative tools available', says Myriam. 'The collaboration with Flanders Make is an excellent example of this. I call it the missing link. As a small company, this partnership allows us to push our innovative ideas forward. Besides, it is also great to watch corporate and academic players work together.'
Prefamac and Flanders Make pooled their knowledge and together manufactured a machine that can spray multilayer chocolate and is able to dose nuts. Prefamac already had a prototype ready. Thanks to Flanders Make's knowledge of mechatronics, a sprayer was introduced that improves the dosing of melted chocolate. The machine sprays perfectly smooth chocolate drops or the exact number of nuts, which allows us to create a unique biscuit or praline. A camera detection system monitors the production and immediately detects even the tiniest manufacturing flaw.
The machine is also modular so that various kinds of pralines can be made on one single machine. 'The co-design element is very important to us', explains Myriam. 'Every machine can be adapted to the specific needs of individual customers. For example, we can put together a custom-made machine that drops 16 nuts in the first layer and 12 nuts in the second. This creates an enormous increase of scale as our customers will no longer have to do it manually, but can do it mechanically.'
Next to co-design, Prefamac also puts a lot of effort into co-creation. From their co-creation centre in Lummen, machines are further developed together with their respective customers. Chocolate manufacturers can test our machines here free of charge using their own chocolate and cocoa butter. In this way, Prefamac creates a unique experience for its customers that allows them to draw, test and even taste what they buy. 'That's how we learn from each other', says Myriam. 'We can gain experience with the best products and fantastic chocolate. This enables us to create a new machine that we can then offer to our customers.'
For Flanders Make, too, the intensive collaboration with Prefamac was an enriching experience. 'Thanks to open communication, mutual respect and the complementarity of both our knowledge and expertise, we have learned from each other and strengthened each other', confirms Dirk Torfs, CEO of Flanders Make. 'The extensive transfer of knowledge has enabled us to develop prototypes for new machines on which new products can be made. Prefamac has discovered new markets and will be able to grow as a result. For Flanders Make, the valorisation of its research creates huge added value and shows how knowledge can be transferred and built up in an SME. It's a good example of an innovation-advancing partnership. It’s something that, as a research centre, we aim to build with as many companies as possible', explains Dirk.
As a result of the corona crisis, the investment plans of many companies have been frozen or substantially reduced, which affects all manufacturing companies. Yet, at Prefamac they are optimistic about the future. 'Innovation is a necessity', says Myriam. 'You have to come up with something new to survive in a time of crisis.' The focus will shift even more to innovation and renewal with clear and specific communication to prospects and customers. Only in this way, we can make a difference and be able to challenge much larger foreign players. 'We can be quite proud of what we achieve with our Flemish manufacturing companies,' concludes Myriam.
Wouter Hanoulle - Communication Officer
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