I cannot be successful in my profession by working alone. Everything I do, I do in constant consultation with my team, which makes our scientific research a real team effort,” says Hein Otto Folkerts, Vice President and Head of Research at ASML. At the beginning of 2020 Folkerts took a seat on the international advisory board of the High Tech System Center (HTSC). So, we are curious as to why he joined our board and what his views are on research in the field of high-tech systems. In compliance with ASML’s strict corona-policy, this interview took place online as we sat in our living rooms, behind our screens.
While Folkerts is now Head of Research at one of the most valuable companies in the Netherlands, we see on his LinkedIn profile that after he finished his PhD in atomic physics, he started his career at Philips. After fifteen years he made the switch to ASML and has now been Head of Research almost three years .
That fact that we could not find more of a backstory makes sense as soon as Folkerts reveals that this is his first interview. So, our first question is how he would describe himself.
“The father of three daughters, married to Inge,” he says with a grin, “but that's not something you write in a newsletter for the HTSC.” He continues on a serious note: “I'm responsible for the definition and execution of a research portfolio that supports the product roadmaps of the three main business lines of ASML, BL Application, DUV and EUV.
“The appeal of my position is in finding the balance between giving my team the autonomy to operate on the one hand, and giving them direction on the other. It means we have to make choices constantly. And when you make choices, you also have to disappoint people. For example, this morning we had some though budget discussions about the annual plan for 2021, having more good ideas than can be granted. My team is aware of the fact that resources have limits. So the least I can do is give the team members a sound explanation for why I chose not to favor his or her request. The clarity of my choices keeps my team motivated.”
In the way HTSC operates, Folkerts recognizes his own approach for conducting scientific research based on cooperation which is one of the reasons he joined the board. “Recently, I gave a motivational speech for employees in our technical talent program. I told them that they see something going wrong, not to just file a complaint but to jump in the gap and come up with a solution. Do not use your current role and responsibilities as an excuse for not dealing with a problem, but recognize the void and help your colleagues to fix it. This is how you learn and can grow to a next level.”
This attitude is something they cultivate and promote within ASML but is a quality Folkerts recognizes in the scientific community of Eindhoven as well.
Folkerts acknowledges the crucial position of the HTSC due to its regional network and its important role in the mechatronics community. “We at ASML are mainly physicists and mechanical engineers. We use physics models to overcome the hurdles of making new products and come up with new solutions. Although the models do suffice, in some instances they take too much time or make the products too complicated.
That's why we are seeking new collaborations with other fields of science. For instance, we are now working with data scientists to optimize our physics models with machine learning to cut the processing times. These collaborations provide us with improved solutions to bring our products one step further and fill in the gaps in our roadmap.”
For ASML to take the next step, they have to attract new talent out of the fields of chemistry and data science. “Although my colleagues have a substantial network in the region and all over the world, their connections are mainly based in physics and mechanical engineering.” According to Folkerts the HTSC can play a pivotal role in this case by utilizing the scientific network of TU/e. “The university can identify and attract the talent we need and combine them in a consortium with which we can work on the problems we need to solve. An extra advantage is that chemistry PhDs who are maybe not that keen to work for the physics base company ASML can more easily be persuaded to work for a consortium of the HTSC and via that route, get to know ASML as an attractive employer for them too.”
Folkerts went on to highlight the further advantage of having this resource just literally around the corner. “Take, for example, the speech to the young talents I mentioned earlier. Some people were in the US and others were in Asia. Just to find a time-slot for this event, so everyone was able to attend at a proper time in their time zone, was nearly undoable.”
The fact that you can easily, meet up physically and have the same attitude to science makes cooperation much easier and more productive. Of course, we work with all kinds of partners all over the world. Most of the time, these collaborations are defined by a single topic or field of science. Often, we miss having an interwoven mash of fields of science and specialists, and that is part of what makes this region especially beneficial.”
“An interesting development is in the merger of HTSC with EAISI (Eindhoven Artificial Intelligent Systems Institute),” states Folkerts. Artificial intelligence can be a valuable addition to the research of high tech systems.” When we ask him if next to chemistry and data science this the third field of science could bring new perspectives or solutions, he shakes his head, “No, I don't consider artificial intelligence as a third field of science. For me it's a form of data science. This merger can open new opportunities, but it is important to keep the main focus on high tech systems. With the HTSC, we built a good working partnership. In our drive to innovate and merge with the EAISI, we have to be careful to preserve the strengths of the HTSC. Waste not, want not, as they say. “Ultimately we must use this strong regional network to facilitate our core principle, which is a focus on the research and development of high tech systems. If my membership on the board can be an assistance to achieve that goal, I gladly take that seat.”