The MecaTech Cluster was officially recognized by the Walloon Government in 2006, along with four other competitiveness clusters (aerospace, life sciences, transport logistics, and agro-industry). The creation of these five competitiveness clusters comes under the Marshall Plan to boost Wallonia's economy.
What is a competitiveness cluster?
To take up the definition given by the Walloon minister of the economy, Jean-Claude Marcourt, "... a competitiveness cluster concentrates companies in an economically promising field... These companies pool their skills and resources with research and training units in order to increase together their abilities to innovate, produce, and provide services. These partnerships enable the undertakings to achieve a larger scale and a level of excellence that raises their profiles on the European and global market".
Mechanical engineering covers a set of enterprises (original equipment manufacturers and assemblers) that provide their customers with "functional systems" (consumer products, machines, and industrial processes), but also companies that manufacture components or sub-units using a wide range of technologies.
These "functional systems" are found in almost every area of activity (consumer products such as cars, household appliances, etc., but also health care and all types of industrial machines and processes). This is what is known as mechanical engineering's transversality.
Hybrid technology in mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering relied heavily on steel and other metals, as well as the machining of parts, throughout the 19th century and a large part of the 20th century. However, things are different now. The products and processes commonly used today combine a great diversity of materials and coatings as well as shaping technologies, including all-inclusive technologies that work by adding matter (thixo projects: forming materials in a semisolid state) instead of removing matter (machining, etc.), sometimes even on the microscopic or nano scale. They include electronics and mechanics (mechatronics); they rely on increasingly sophisticated computation and simulation methods, including the development of multiphysical models. New technological combinations are being developed, e.g., biomechatronics and photonics. The aseptic surfaces project carried out under the Mirage project is a good example of the integration of knowledge and know-how linked to organic fields.
The "machines and processes" of mechanical engineering as well as its components incorporate a more and more varied range of scientific fields and cutting-edge techniques. The interactions amongst these sciences and technologies are growing apace and leading to the "hybridisation of mechanical engineering", thereby generating truly groundbreaking innovations.
The need to network – one of the cluster's objectives
The hybridisation of technology and strategic positioning of the various entities involved make networking a must for the various players in the mechanical engineering field. This notion of networking must be extended to universities and laboratories, which are vital players in the game.
Fostering this way of working is one of all Wallonia's clusters' reasons for being.
The MecaTech Cluster projects are selected in four strategic orientations, to wit:
materials and surfaces of the future
comprehensive forming technologies
microtechnologies and mechatronics, and