This is the question that has been on John Blankendaal’s mind since 2011, when Brainport Industries was founded with a focus on three areas: people, technology and markets.
Starting out as a cooperative of seven suppliers within the high-tech manufacturing domain, Brainport Industries is now developing the Brainport Industries Campus (BIC), a space that brings various companies and knowledge institutions into direct proximity with one another. This includes the High Tech Systems Center (HTSC), which has been at the heart of the innovation program. As Managing Director, John outlines the story behind the new campus, the role of collaboration the HTSC in its success and the bright future that lies ahead.
As with Brainport Industries itself, the BIC has always been about making connections. “We were thinking, what is the next step in cooperation? Could it be more fruitful to put functions like education, manufacturing, technology and markets under one roof?” John explains, noting that more than 60 companies took part in the formulation of the innovation program. “We could create an internationally-recognized hub for manufacturing technologies. Entrepreneurs don’t think in regions – Asia, US and Europe, yes, but not Eindhoven, Delft and Enschede.”
This innovation program, called the Factory of the Future, has set up seven projects on topics that will define the next generation of manufacturing, such as software development, virtual reality and flexible manufacturing. To facilitate such broad goals, five buildings will be created in total. The first of these opened its doors in the summer of 2018 and already houses a number of top companies, as well as a space for vocational training. “Without proximity,” says John, “it’s very hard to get acquainted with one another. We have shared facilities – we are now creating an additive manufacturing facility, for example, where we share the metal printers and knowledge. Without a campus, it’s very hard to organize that.”
While aiming to usher in a new era in manufacturing cooperation, the BIC also reflects key developments that have taken place in recent years. “This is a green campus,” John says. “Our customers are demanding sustainable suppliers, so we also need to develop sustainable buildings and a sustainable area. We work with heat pumps and solar cells to provide us with energy; the heat from the CNC machines is used for the heating of offices, for example. It’s a really circular system.” For John, it’s also important that workers can be close to nature and open spaces, hence the wooded position on the edge of Eindhoven. “It also adds a little bit to the ‘wow factor’,” he smiles.
Ironically, it was this desire to create something unique that threw up the biggest challenges for the campus. “We started during a crisis, not just in high-tech manufacturing but also in real estate development,” explains John. “We had to convince our municipalities and public servants that a greenfield site was really necessary and a boost to the high-tech industry. We talked about Industry 4.0 and new economic forces like 3D printing and inspection tooling, but also about how it could be attractive to youngsters who want to work in the high-tech industry because it’s a beautiful campus.” Once this obstacle had been overcome, it proved surprisingly easy to attract companies to the site, which John considers a testament to the strong belief in collaborative innovation in Eindhoven.
The HTSC is no stranger to this outlook, having been one of the parties involved in the BIC’s innovation program and a long-time supporter of Brainport Industries. “The High Tech Systems Center is now key in creating roadmaps,” John notes, citing multi-material printing as an area in which the BIC and HTSC have created the necessary facilities and financial instruments for companies to innovate. “It’s not only about fundamental research, it’s also about the applications and technology readiness levels 5 and 6. That was set up in close cooperation with the High Tech Systems Center, and shows the capability of the HTSC to gap the bridge between fundamental research to applied research in strong cooperation with the industry.”
As another example, he jumps to Bavaria, Germany, where a 3D printing and additive manufacturing collaboration has been developed with the Mechatronics Cluster. Like Brainport Industries, this cross-industry network is the connecting factor in a multitude of manufacturing alliances that are now making breakthroughs. “Because we have the innovation program with two projects on this, we offered our facilities and also our cooperation: a bundling of knowledge between companies, the university [TU/e] and TNO through the High Tech Systems Center,” says John. He goes on to list a number of other intersections in which HTSC is playing a crucial role, including data analysis, advanced manufacturing logistics and robot automation. “The relationship between the High Tech Systems Center and Brainport Industries is very close. We know how to find each other when we have a challenge in manufacturing technologies.”
As for the future, John doesn’t shy away from major goals. “I want to be the frontrunner in Industry 4.0, what we in the Netherlands call Smart Industry,” he says, pointing to eight transformations that must take place to ensure that industry remains competitive and innovative: Smart Manufacturing, Flexible Manufacturing, Smart Products, Servitization, Connected Factories, Digital Factories, Sustainable Factories and Smart Working. “In my opinion, innovation is only successful innovation if you can earn money with it in the end. Otherwise it’s a hobby project,” he laughs.
The human factor, however, remains vital in John’s eyes. “There is a lack of good, educated people in our ecosystem. We don’t want to spoil their chances by giving them useless jobs and don’t want to replace them with robots, we want them to use their talents for really useful tasks,” he says. “When I walk from the parking lots to the building and I see all those youngsters working on the newest machines, people mingling and having enthusiastic conversations, I think, ‘yes, it works’. A dream came true.”