If you were to look up “fan of Flanders” in the dictionary, chances are a picture of Daikin would pop up. The Japanese company first settled in Belgium’s northern region in 1972, launched production the next year, and has been on a path of local anchorage ever since. Today, Daikin’s site in the town of Ostend houses its HQ for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while serving as one of the multinational’s four regional development centers worldwide. But the ambitious company also explores other corners of Flanders. In 2021, Daikin Europe announced it would channel EUR 140 million into the construction of an R&D center in Ghent. The goal is to make the site Daikin’s new global innovation center for heat pump and refrigeration technologies.
Planned to go live by 2024, the new center has already earned a nomination for the 2022 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy presented by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT). This only adds to Daikin’s trophy track record. Previously, it competed for the 2017 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy after expanding its European Development Center in Ostend. Meanwhile, in 2019, Daikin received the Lifetime Achievement Trophy, celebrating its long-standing dedication to Flanders.
Say “Daikin,” and the word that follows will often be “air conditioners.” But the Japanese multinational has much more in store. Headquartered in Osaka, it designs, manufactures and supplies heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration solutions for residential, commercial and industrial applications alike. An innovative business, that much is certain. Constant innovation is a must to make Daikin’s technologies and solutions as sustainable and user-friendly as possible, so investing in R&D is crucial. That is where Daikin Europe’s new R&D center in Ghent comes in.
“Much of our R&D happens in Ostend, the leading R&D center of Daikin Europe today,” says Wim De Schacht, Vice President of Daikin Europe. “In Ghent, we have a smaller R&D site dedicated to the development of IoT, Controls and AI applications. But to support our major growth ambitions in Europe, we are accelerating our investments in R&D focusing on specific innovation themes. These include heat pumps, a sustainable cold chain and the use of the Internet of Things for an enhanced user experience and smart energy use. Overall, our approach is to align our R&D efforts to the needs of the European market, which is strongly guided by the European Green Deal and the search for solutions that support the energy shift.”
Within this context, Daikin Europe aims to make its new Ghent-based R&D center the group’s global reference center for heat pumps and innovative refrigeration technologies.
But Daikin Europe isn’t alone in its innovative endeavors. The company collaborates with academia from various universities in Flanders. “In Ghent,” adds Wim De Schacht, “we have been working closely with the city’s university, UGent, for years. A positive experience that contributed to the decision to centralize our R&D activities at our to-be-built R&D center in the city. The investment will only intensify our collaboration and lead to even more joint research projects – for example in the field of IoT control systems that can further boost smart energy use and user-friendliness of our products.”
“What’s more,” Wim De Schacht continues, “we are setting up our site at Ghent’s cutting-edge technology park which is also home to numerous IT start-ups that can help us achieve our innovation goals. From our new base there, we’ll be collaborating with international talent from around 90 countries, while also tapping into the local talent pool. Thanks to the proximity of UGent, we can access a steady stream of highly skilled people to work with.”
Meanwhile, Daikin Europe intends to make sure its employees and innovation partners can work in an inspiring environment. Apart from offices for its own R&D, the company’s new center in Ghent provides accommodation for start-ups and initiatives that focus on sustainable living. UGent will have two floors at its disposal, as well as access to the center’s 12 test rooms and an auditorium.
But the co-creation possibilities don’t stop at the city borders. Daikin Europe’s new R&D center in Ghent also hopes to play a role in the innovative business and research ecosystem brought about by Flanders Make. That’s one of Flanders’ four strategic research centers. With sites across the region of Flanders, it supports manufacturing industry players to help them develop and optimize their products and production processes.
One thing’s clear: Daikin’s approach to both production and innovation strikes the balance between global strategy and local anchorage. Wim De Schacht: “Our group policy has always been to produce locally and strive towards a short value chain, which is somewhat atypical in our industry. In Flanders, our business delivers a prime example of this approach. In 2023, we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our production launch in Ostend. This site is, without a doubt, Daikin Europe’s main production hub, employing over 1,200 operators. But it also has a solid focus on R&D, with a team that’s over 250 engineers strong. The new site in Ghent only furthers our local anchorage in the region.”
Meanwhile, the new R&D center is part of a bigger European investment picture as well. Between 2021 and 2025, Daikin Europe is investing no less than EUR 840 million across the continent, of which EUR 140 million will be channeled into the construction of the Ghent site. “We are constantly hiring, and we are also specifically looking to reinforce our R&D teams,” adds Wim De Schacht. “In Flanders, we plan to welcome at least 135 additional development engineers by 2025, but it may well be more. And besides our internal workforce, we also work with outsourced talent. In 2021, at least 60 external engineers were active in our R&D center – and we’re looking for 30 more in 2022. It’s safe to say that diverse talent is what drives Daikin forward.”