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Why ECA GROUP built a cutting-edge drone plant in Flanders

We could drone on about how attractive Flanders’ tech scene is for R&D-driven companies. But concrete examples can say so much more. Enter French engineering company ECA GROUP, which channeled EUR 10 million into the construction of a 5,000 m² drone factory at the Port of Ostend in Flanders.

Constructed over the course of 2021, the new plant develops and produces maritime drone systems. These are used by the Belgian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy for the purpose of mine clearance. “Our drone-based technology drastically changes the face of mine hunting,” assures Steven Luys, CEO of the Belgian ECA GROUP division. 

Detecting danger, safeguarding people

Established in 1936, ECA GROUP is a long-term expert in robotics and has been developing innovative technological solutions for the detection and clearance of mines. To date, over 30 navies worldwide have used ECA’s technology to make ports and waterways safer.

“By using unmanned drones to detect, identify and remove sea mines, this kind of activity becomes less dangerous for the crew involved,” says Steven Luys, CEO of the Belgian ECA GROUP division. “Thanks to the drones, the navy’s mother ship can remain outside the minefield, keeping the crew at a safe distance and significantly reducing the risks. This technology will drastically change the face of mine hunting, making it safer for the crews and their ships.”

Our drone technology drastically changes the face of mine hunting, making it safer for the crews and their ships.

Steven Luys
CEO of the Belgian ECA GROUP division

Steven Luys

It’s not a coincidence the company chose ‘Make sure’ as its tagline. Steven Luys: “It perfectly illustrates the values of ECA GROUP, which are based on pragmatism and a customer-oriented approach. Because safety matters in all aspects of life, we want to help our clientele make safe and sound decisions.” 

Bursting with talent and innovation

In 2019, ECA GROUP obtained a contract – together with French company Naval Group – to supply 12 next-generation minesweepers and dedicated unmanned systems to the Belgian Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy. For this, the Belgium Naval & Robotics consortium was established. 

The local division of ECA GROUP in Mouscron and Ostend (Flanders) is responsible for manufacturing the innovative naval drones that will be used to detect, classify, identify and neutralize mines at sea by unmanned vessels. Initially, the drones will serve the Belgian Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy – both world leaders in the field of mine neutralization – but the idea is to ultimately assemble them for the global market from the Port of Ostend, where ECA GROUP established its new plant.

Apart from the abundant local talent pool, the choice of Ostend, in Flanders, was primarily triggered by pragmatic factors. “Obviously, we wanted to be close to the sea,” says Steven Luys. “But Ostend is also where Eguermin, the Belgian-Dutch Navy’s mine clearance school, is based. There, sailors will be taught to use our innovative drone-based system.” 

We were pleased to build our factory at the Port of Ostend, near the navy’s headquarters and with direct access to the North Sea. 

Steven Luys
CEO of the Belgian ECA GROUP division

Making headway in Flanders

In Flanders, ECA GROUP is also in great company. The French group decided to become part of the Blue Cluster, one of Flanders’ spearhead clusters and a network of successful maritime companies and skilled people within the maritime sector. 

Steven Luys: “We are keen to work with these key players, leveraging the knowledge that is present within the local blue economy and adding the expertise of ECA GROUP to ensure mutual growth. When it comes to mine countermeasures, the Belgian Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy are NATO’s flagships. ECA GROUP’s innovative tech adds to that. Through the local marine school, all drone and demining know-how percolates throughout the entire ecosystem.”

“Thanks to the excellent support of organizations such as Flanders Investment & Trade and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship, our early days in Flanders have been extremely welcoming,” Steven Luys recalls. “These agencies put us in touch with the right people and funding partners. To give the investment project an additional boost, Flanders even granted EUR 1 million in structural transformation support.” 

More info

Reported by
Flanders Investment & Trade
24 January 2022

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