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Artificial intelligence, digitization, and automation are transforming the manufacturing industry. New technologies promise efficiency and quality improvements but also places new demands on personnel and safety standards. Embedding digital technology in the manufacturing industry requires a new approach that puts people at the center. Many companies and organizations need a clearer understanding of digitization, AI, and data science opportunities.

That is why Mikrocentrum is fully committed to courses on this topic. We asked three experts—Fieke van Boxmeer, Albert van Breemen, and Harm Bodewes—for their views on the developments in the manufacturing industry. All three agree that digitization, automation, and AI can be game-changers for the industry. Still, something must be done about the gap between, for example, AI and applications in practice.

Why this is important:

The promise of automation, digitization and AI for the manufacturing industry are huge. But, how can the sector fulfill this promise? Personnel with the right skills play an important role in this. Fieke van Boxmeer, Albert van Breemen and Harm Bodewes ensure that the gap between technology and practice becomes smaller.

Albert van Breemen

‘Companies can only translate AI into practice with the right knowledge in-house’

Whereas AI now draws full houses, it was different in the 1990s when Albert van Breemen received his doctorate. His professor advised him to focus on something other than AI because that was “never going to work.” Van Breemen is now CEO and CTO at VBTI, an AI engineering company that develops deep learning solutions for companies in the fields of agriculture and manufacturing. He also conducts deep learning master classes for Mikrocentrum.

“Take a language model, such as ChatGPT. From one moment to the next, it was there, and people had to look for applications and possibilities and delve into the knowledge. Big companies like Philips and ASML have a lot of resources to implement AI, but SMEs don’t. Companies cannot translate AI to industrial applications if they do not know what is possible.”

That is exactly why Van Breemen focuses on the practical application of these technologies in his Computer Vision and Deep Learning master classes. Moreover, everyone who takes the course automatically gains a network of allies who are also looking for applications and course leaders who can help with that.

An example of applications in the manufacturing industry, van Breemen cites a computer vision robot VBTI developed. “One of our customers makes a complex mechatronic module for a high-tech company. Inspection is needed when assembling that module. VBTI created a robot that uses computer vision and AI to look for missing parts, blemishes, or scratches independently. That robot ticks a list of five hundred checkboxes through a completely automated and standardized process. That delivers good quality, reduces production costs, and makes workers’ work much more varied.”

‘There are a lot of talks, but little action with AI’

Harm Bodewes

Harm Bodewes has also been involved with data and its processing throughout his working life. In 1991, he graduated in data modeling. During COVID-19, he thought it was time for a career switch and began studying data science. Now, he is in front of the classroom himself and teaches the AI for Managers course at Mikrocentrum.

“I often notice that at companies, there is a lot of talk but little done with AI. For example, there’s a lot of talk about predictive maintenance, but if you look at how many SMEs get started with it, it’s disappointing.” This is partly because entrepreneurs are often busy and have other priorities, Bodewes believes, but also because there are knowledge gaps when it comes to applying AI in your business.

The assumption that any course on AI is immediately very scientific or complicated is one that Bodewes likes to dispel. “In the AI for Managers course, we try to develop applications for people in their field of work. So, Where can you create value by applying AI? On the first day, we set out what the options are; on days two and three, we look at how students can apply those options in their own companies.” As an example, he mentions smart lighting. We should use motion sensors and intelligent algorithms to predict when and where to turn lights on and off rather than have all lights always on everywhere. “That’s one of many examples that shows how AI can become part of your business in an approachable way. In the course, each student works out such an example in a so-called AI Project Canvas so that after the course, they can immediately start a ‘real’ AI project within their company.”

‘We want to show entrepreneurs how digitalization can work for them’

Fieke van Boxmeer

Fieke van Boxmeer is the project leader of the Digital Industry Boost consortium, for which Mikrocentrum, together with partners (Summa College, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, and Brainport Industries), secured a seven million euro grant from the Ministry of Economic Affairs last September.

“The Brainport region is growing fast, and one of the main questions is: How can we do more with fewer people? With the Digital Industry Boost, we are helping the high-tech and manufacturing industries achieve that through digitization and automation.”

Mikrocentrum is developing practical training in this project, including in AI. In this market, where developments are happening at lightning speed, involving the work field in what is being developed is essential. “We would like to hear from the companies what they expect from a future employee and what developments they will have to deal with so that we can translate that into innovative, quality courses and training.”

In four years, when the program ends, Van Boxmeer hopes that Mikrocentrum will be the one-stop shop where high-tech and manufacturing companies can develop the flexible and well-trained employees of today and tomorrow. “But we would also like to respond even faster and more flexibly to tomorrow’s questions so that we can contribute to a stronger competitive position and greater innovativeness of our clients.”


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