Entrepreneurial Group

Innovation is in the DNA of John Cockerill

Innovation is in the DNA of John Cockerill
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Awards with a growing prestige factor

The 2019 John Cockerill Awards have once again highlighted the culture of innovation at John Cockerill. “This 5th edition brought together 66 projects of very high quality. Participation has increased by 30%, and the quality of the submissions is always higher”, says Xavier, the Project Manager. “This in-house competition showcases the substance behind the John Cockerill name: the collective intelligence of its teams.”

The 2019 winners by category

Commercial developments:

Development of a pre-assembly solution to improve the competitiveness of our recovery boilers in the North American market (the ‘BMC’ project).

Development of a containerized water treatment solution for electricity generation in Cape Verde (The ‘Plug and Play’ project).


The installation of a peat activation process in Finland: a world first in the growing activated carbon market (the ‘VAPO’ project).

Participation in a European research project on the production of decarbonized steel through electrolysis (the ‘Siderwin’ project).

Health, safety and the environment:

Refurbishment and re-commissioning of the intermediate gate of the Fontinettes lock, which allowed a significant reduction of the volumes of water needed to allow barges to pass and the reinforcement of the entire metal structure (the ‘Fontinettes’ project).

Modernization of a treatment workshop for aviation tubes by making the human factor central to the design of the facility (the ‘Specitube’ project).

Continuous improvement:

Strengthening the attractiveness of John Cockerill through the development of tele-working and the implementation of a variable compensation customization system (the ‘Flexipay’ project).

Collective improvement of the operational performance of a production facility, for better accountability and more efficient manufacturing (the ‘Aubange Next Generation’ project).

The Public Award:

The public Award was given to the Safety Culture in the Taloja Workshops (India).

Open innovation: to be open in order to be stronger together

For the Group, the year 2019 was marked by the Open Innovation. Our culture of innovation opened up to new collaborations, and John Cockerill has strengthened its ties with many partners.

Together with the C.R.M. of Liège, John Cockerill worked on the stealth of turrets, and also on the optimization of surface materials and the surface treatment of molten salt solar receivers. Developments are being launched with ULiège and CEBEDEAU to consider the future treatment of municipal effluents or to adapt the treatment of cooling systems to the constraints of the biocide directive. In France, in collaboration with LASSALLE-Beauvais and UTC, John Cockerill developed a pilot project as part of Cometha. The Group is also involved in professional organizations: in particular, Transurb® and Agueris® have presented their simulation solutions to the BiR&D (Belgian industrial Research and Development).

Jean, Group Chief Technology Officer, adds: “In terms of intellectual property, each sector has implemented a dynamic and strategic management of its patent portfolio. This optimization has led to the filing of 12 new patents in 2019.”

‘Digital Industry 4.0’: data catalyst for operational excellence

John Cockerill intends to fully integrate digitalization in order to ensure operational excellence. In order to do this, it launched ‘Digital Industry 4.0’, a project that aims to diversify and adjust the offer of products and services, but also to propose new, innovative models.

‘Light Houses Projects’ have been deployed in a 4.0 vision, thanks to a Data Hub, a platform that facilitates their digital development. The information for each project is centralized. “This Hub is data-driven. The aim is to improve our equipment and processes, but also to develop new services”, says Yannick, the project coordinator. “For example, the maintenance of a hydrolyzer is facilitated because part of the operation is automated. At the level of a multiple hearth furnace, sensors are installed to analyze temperature variations. Another example: locomotives are equipped to be geo-located, in order to be able to remotely detect a possible problem and to intervene directly.” All the data from MiRIS® (our industrial pilot project for the production/storage of energy) is also transmitted through the Data Hub: the energy produced by the station and the consumption of the site are monitored. Other Light Houses Projects connected to the Data Hub are Acid Regenerators (ARP) and boilers (Once Through Boiler). These sustainable solutions generate profitable growth, and allow John Cockerill to stand out from its competitors.

Solutions for a sustainable industry

Among the energy transition projects of John Cockerill, two CO2 reduction projects are attracting attention. They are being carried out in collaboration with major partners.

Siderwin: production of iron without CO2

Alongside eleven partners, including ArcelorMittal and EDF, John Cockerill is involved in the development of steel decarbonized production through electrolytic extraction. This is a European project. John Cockerill’s contribution is to transform laboratory technology into an industrial process: Siderwin electrifies iron production from renewable energy, with the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. “We have analyzed an innovative electrochemical process for converting iron oxide into iron plates. This promising technology is emerging as a sustainable solution for the recycling of industrial waste, which can then be used as raw materials in this process,” explains Cédric, Project Manager. By participating in this evolution, John Cockerill acquires new expertise and enriches its portfolio of new equipment. This solution also offers prospects for treating the red sludge generated during aluminum production.

'3D' project: capturing and storing industrial CO2

John Cockerill is participating in the ‘3D’ project, with European financial support and partners such as ArcelorMittal and Total. This project, led by the IFP New Energy Institute, aims to capture the CO2 emitted by blast furnaces using an amine absorption process. The ‘3D’ project aims to validate technical solutions that can be replicated on an industrial scale, and then deploy this CO2 capture-storage technology around the world.” The specific contribution of John Cockerill is to study solutions for steam generation starting from the recovered lost heat, and to assess the investment and operating costs.

From the technology to the (new) markets

The technological developments in 2019 have opened up new market prospects.

New security solutions thanks to Fortress

In 2019, John Cockerill deployed a range of solutions for securing sensitive industrial sites, based on defense technologies adapted to civilian use. It thereby joined forces with Fortress Intl. to create John Cockerill Fortress. André, CEO of John Cockerill Fortress: “These new technologies detect drones, identify them and, if necessary, neutralize them. We also offer various solutions for perimeter surveillance, intrusion detection, identification and access control systems and surveillance drones.”

John Cockerill Fortress offers concrete solutions to fight against insecurity: drawing on its exclusive technological partnerships and its integrator and project management skills, it provides, operates and maintains operational surveillance solutions in restrictive environments.

2nd generation CPWS: development of a multi-role turret

Technological development never stops at John Cockerill. The CPWS Gen.2 (Cockerill Protected Weapon Station) is a perfect example of an innovative concept. It is a multi-role turret: multi-mission and multi-configuration. “The CPWS Gen.2 is innovative: better protected, lighter and more competitive than the Gen.1,” explains Thierry, President of John Cockerill Defense. “This turret retains the advantages of the first Cockerill Protected Weapon Station, such as the protection of crews during reloading of the main weapon, and benefits from numerous improvements, in terms of performance, operability, diagnostics or, once again, maintainability. Among other examples, we have equipped it with a 100% digital video architecture and a configurable hatch that is unique in the world: it allows the adoption of four different configurations according to the mission. The CPWS Gen.2 is very versatile. It can integrate different primary weapons, depending on the needs of the client organization.”

This new turret model responds to the needs of customers in terms of flexibility and mobility. It is the fruit of an international multi-site development: the cutting of the plates in Distroff (France), manufacture of the first hull in Aubange (Belgium) and assembly in Loncin (Belgium).

Exploring new business models

Originally a supplier of services and equipment, John Cockerill is now also positioning itself as an investor partner. In 2019, a reflection was carried out with the aim of co-financing. Anne-Françoise, Group Chief Strategy Officer: “Thanks to this structure, John Cockerill could invest alongside its clients to facilitate the rapid adoption of innovative solutions, from the creation of the project to the first phases of operation.

The first concrete result of this approach: in 2019, John Cockerill signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the supply of hydrogen-based mobility solutions for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Listening skills, thinking differently, proximity and innovation are the key factors for the success of this project. They are an integral part of this strategy.

Safety, always a priority

frequency rate
severity rate

Safety culture

At the 2019 John Cockerill Awards, the Audience Award was given to the workshop in Taloja (India) for its 2 300 days without an accident. Even more than performance, the employees of John Cockerill rewarded this culture of safety with their vote. Vivek, General Manager, recalls that these results owe nothing to chance. It’s an ongoing effort: “We have anchored security in our company culture. We have developed a proactive approach around three axes: the involvement of workers, the commitment of the management and the importance given to safety at all levels of the organization.”

And Jean-Luc Maurange, CEO of John Cockerill, adds: “Nothing is more important than a human life. Our first goal is that all of our employees and sub-contractors return home in good health at the end of each working day. As a company, we do everything in our power to achieve this goal.”

The best results since 2014

In general, the health and safety performance improved considerably in 2019: John Cockerill Industry exceeded 1 500 accident-free days in Belgium; the machining teams of Distroff (France) have set a new record of 4 000 days without an accident involving a stoppage; John Cockerill Services has reached 3 500 days at MCF (France) and the 1 000-day mark has been crossed at Services Liège (Belgium), etc. “This result is due to the professional, committed and responsible behavior of everyone, as well as the dialog between the teams leading to ever safer environments. It is a true corporate culture that not only ensures optimal health and safety conditions, but also our operational excellence and the quality of our interventions,” underlines Gérard, the EHS Group Director.

The figures speak for themselves: group-wide, the accident frequency rate (2.28) and the accident severity rate (0.092) have significantly decreased in 2019.


The diversity of its activities and the international exposure of its markets allow John Cockerill to offer enriching and formative experiences to its talents. Each mission within the Group is an opportunity to discover a product, a technology, a process, or simply new colleagues, all in the family environment that is unique to John Cockerill.

Finalist in the Belgian Company of the Year award

John Cockerill was a finalist for the Belgian Company of the Year award in 2019. From its participation in the 24th edition of this competition, the Group has derived both great pride and the recognition of the work done every day by all its teams around the world. It has effectively highlighted the diversity of activities and the mission that we have set ourselves: to meet the needs of our time.

Changes in the workforce

John Cockerill triggers a great deal of opportunities for its talents. As of December 31, 2019, the Group had 6 315 employees on five continents, 5 741 of which with a John Cockerill employment contract. Their diversity is what gives the Group its collective strength and sheer substance: 48 nationalities, a proportion equally divided between workers (37%), employees and technicians (33%), and managers (29%). 46% of them are under the age of 40, and 13% are women.

A talent for attracting and retaining talent

The diversity of its activities and the international exposure of its markets allow John Cockerill to offer enriching and formative experiences to its talents. Each mission within the Group is an opportunity to discover a product, a technology, a process, or simply new colleagues, all in the family environment that is unique to John Cockerill.

John Cockerill launched its ‘leadership@johncockerill’ program in 2019. The objective? To adapt our management practices to the needs of today’s talents and to align them with our entrepreneurial values. At the end of the 1st phase of the program, the 230 participants identified their strengths and chose their personal development paths, along with action plans. Joint training programs will complete this individual journey in 2020. “This support gives confidence to our talents and encourages them to seize new opportunities in line with their aspirations”, adds Gilles, the HR Business Partner for the Defense sector.

As an employer, John Cockerill also strives to create the right conditions for the development and performance of its employees. Two new initiatives in this direction were launched in 2019: one is the possibility of tele-working on a regular basis, the other is the possibility of customizing part of the salary package according to the needs of each person.

“The deployment of tele-working means developing both autonomy and flexibility: two essential ingredients for both personal balance and collective performance”, says Brigitte, Chief Human Resources and Communication Officer.

With regard to the salary package, the implementation of Flexible Pay in Belgium means that “each executive can now arrange his/her variable remuneration according to his/her aspirations and individual situation: bicycles, computer equipment or days off were particularly popular in this first edition”, continues Pierre, Talent Acquisition Manager.

All of these initiatives meet the needs of the employees, and enhance the reputation and attractiveness of John Cockerill.

Communication that moves with the times

At the same time as the Group was reconnecting with its roots by re-appropriating the name of its founder, a wind of digitization was blowing through all its communication channels: this is the case for the website, which, in a fluid, clear, modern and intuitive way, shows how John Cockerill responds to the needs of our time. This is also the case with the social networks, through which the Group interacts daily and unites a community that is growing from day to day.

The Group’s internal communication has also become digital. The annual mobilization meeting around the issues of the Group has thereby changed its format: it’s now taken the form of a television program broadcast to all employees. A way in which to share the challenges with transparency and modernity. This new formula has made it possible to broaden the audience of this event without generating CO2 through traveling.

As a result, more recourse was taken to video-conferencing and internal webinars were developed, thereby unknowingly experimenting with the practices that the Covid-19 crisis would bring into widespread use a few weeks later. This interactive and immediate communication tool stimulates and engages all the employees, wherever they are in the world. It reinforces the closeness and the dialog between top management and all the employees.

Adjusted governance

John Cockerill is overseen by a Board of Directors with a long-term commitment to the Group’s industrial project. This is surrounded by the governance bodies necessary for the sound management of the company, whether in terms of strategy, control, risks or operations. These forums of coordination ensure the Group’s interconnection and the cohesion of the actions undertaken across the board. Their respective responsibilities are clearly defined.

In the 4th quarter of 2019, the Managing Director and the Chairman of the Board of Directors started thinking about re-adjusting the organization and reshuffling the management team, in order to adapt it to recent developments in the Group and to prepare for the future. The societal and economic upheavals following the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020 reinforced their conviction regarding the merits of this development. The Group’s governance bodies were therefore revised on June 1, 2020, as described here under.

The Board of Directors

Brigitte Coppens has been mandated by the Chairman of the Board of Directors to develop and structure an ambitious and sustainable development policy at Group level. To fulfill this mission and in order to interact effectively with the Board of Directors, Brigitte Coppens will also provide the general secretariat for the Board of Directors. At the same time, she will retain her position as Chief Human Resources & Communication Officer.

From left to right: Maurice Semer, Louis Smal, Diego Aquilina, Gérard Longuet, Jean-Luc Maurange, Yves Honhon, Bernard Serin (Chairman), Paul Thonon, Nicolas Serin (Vice-Chairman) & Jean-Pol Poncelet.


Matthieu Jehl joined John Cockerill on June 1, 2020 as President of the Energy sector. As such, he joined the Group Executive Committee (Comex). He replaces Jean-Michel Gheeraerdts at the head of John Cockerill Energy. He joins the Commercial and Legal Department and remains a member of the Executive Committee.

From left to right and from top to bottom: Jean-Luc Maurange, Yves Honhon, Jean Jouet, Brigitte Coppens, João Felix Da Silva, Patrick Paramore, Franck Pasqualini, Thierry Renaudin, Jean-Michel Gheeraerdts, Jean Gourp & Matthieu Jehl. In charge of the Comex animation: Anne-Françoise Laime.

An expanded Comex

A new and enlarged Comex has been set up to support the Executive Committee in its work. It consists of 11 managers representing the different sensitivities of the Group, in terms of sectors, trades, expertise or culture.