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Bayer keeps factory builder Dirk Van Meirvenne busy

If the German chemical and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer builds a new factory, you can almost bet your bottom dollar Fleming Dirk Van Meirvenne was involved. As head of Bayer Technologies Services responsible for design, building and maintenance of factories, he says his division has never been this busy. Never before has the company invested so much in its pharmaceutical, crop protection and synthetics divisions. Recently factories were built in China and Germany to manufacture MDI and TDI, substances used in insulation, mattresses and shoe soles. One could well ask why Bayer’s Antwerp installations, where 819 of their 1 647 employees in Belgium work, was overlooked when investment decisions were made recently. In 2010 an internal document ranked the Antwerp plant number 23 out of their 26 outfits in respect of  efficiency and wage and energy costs. Van Meirvenne puts the poor ranking in perspective, saying: “The Antwerp cluster is one of the best in the world, with excellent access to raw materials. Moreover the investment climate in Flanders is much more favourable than in Germany, where the social support for major investment projects is less substantial. Van Meirvenne is convinced of a solid future for the chemical industry in Europe and Belgium. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology small, mobile factories can be set up in countries which do not have a large enough market to make a traditional factory profitable.
In future chemical companies will no longer function in isolation either, he believes. At the Invite Centre in Leverkusen, Bayer’s chemical installations and those of German rivals Evonik and BASF  are located next to each other without knowing what the other is manufacturing, but sharing technologies in an attempt to establish a standard. “The tunnel innovation which sees each concern developing its own product is outdated,” says Van Meirvenne. “Just look at the auto and electronics industries, where close collaboration is on the increase.”