Sharing knowledge to develop new technologies together. That was why Mikrocentrum‘s High Tech Platform (HTP) was founded forty years ago. About 170 precision manufacturing companies from small and medium-sized enterprises joined. Forty years later, the network has 550 members. And with challenges such as Industry 4.0, sustainability, and a war on talent, sharing knowledge, inspiring, and connecting are still of utmost importance.
High Tech Platform manager Maarten Roos and members from the beginning of Kurval BV and KWME know what the platform can mean for the Dutch high-tech and manufacturing industry, especially in these times.
The High Tech Platform is a technical network where inspiring, connecting, and sharing knowledge are central. Meeting each other, exchanging experiences, and sharing knowledge, that is what it is all about. The call for connection is only getting stronger; we need the entire ecosystem and each other to keep up in a rapidly changing world full of new technological developments. The High Tech Platform brings this ecosystem together in activities exclusively for members and during Mikrocentrum events and training. “The fact that the Platform is still alive and kicking after four decades proves that companies see the need to connect with other companies, to inspire each other and exchange knowledge,” says Roos.
“Small companies with a certain specialty have an expertise, which is essential for large parties,” the mayors of Enschede and Eindhoven wrote when the High tech Platform was established. “I read that recently,” says Roos, “and it occurred to me that nothing has changed. Take ASML’s supply chain, for example. That is incredibly large. Thanks to those hundreds of precision companies operating within it, ASML can be sure they can’t just be copied.”
Small parties are hugely important to each other because of those specialties, Roos continued. “By sharing that knowledge with each other, we can develop new technologies. That’s still true today. We have successfully connected parties over the past forty years; we will continue to do that for the next forty years.”
Connect and inspire
A good example of the importance of the connecting role of the High Tech Platform can be found at Kurval BV, a supplier of various products for the high-tech and manufacturing industry. Director Mark Holthuis is an exhibition man par excellence. For him, events organized by Mikrocentrum (including the exclusive High Tech Platform meetings) are pre-eminently suited to connect knowledge, technology, and networks of various parties and to inspire each other. The importance of this is perhaps even greater than in the 1980s. “Because besides being a knowledge country, the Netherlands must also become a manufacturing country again. And you need each other for that.”
Edward Voncken, director of KMWE, which specializes in producing high-tech components, modules, and systems, agrees. “It’s about openness. Daring to share things with each other. Not acting frenetically, like we have something unique and put a big fence around it. Developments are happening so fast that you can’t do it alone as a company. Dare to work together. That is very important. Entrepreneurship is daring to take that step.” Besides the High Tech Platform, he also sees the phenomenon of collaboration in other networks such as Brainport Industries and the resulting Brainport Industries Campus, currently KMWE’s main location. “It all helps to emphasize the importance of the high-tech and manufacturing industry In the Netherlands.”
Roos notices that parties now share knowledge with each other more easily and don’t keep the door closed. “We are proud of that. Of course, this is not solely the merit of the High Tech Platform, but we have contributed enormously to it. You can also see that at the Mikrocentrum trade fairs, where people meet and share insights and challenges.”
For Holthuis, trade fair visits and network meetings are essential. “It is precisely there that participants come together for help and information. Our business is also increasingly about providing knowledge and not just selling a product. We see that advisory and guidance function is growing all the time.” The many networking events are making those collaboration opportunities more and more extensive.
Businesses currently face a cluster of challenges, according to Roos. “With issues such as staff shortages, automation, and sustainability, it is extra important to stay visible and informed. This is ideally done through events and training.”
The high-tech and manufacturing industry in the Netherlands has changed considerably in recent years, Holthuis emphasizes. “There has been a big changeover, also with us. We lived on machinery for the plastics industry after the war. In recent decades that has shifted to products for the high-tech industry. Smaller quantities, but more expensive products.”
According to Holthuis, the Netherlands is on the eve of new transitions. “It is economically and climatologically no longer feasible to get cheap products from the Far East as is currently the case and transport them to Europe in heavily polluting container ships. We will have to say goodbye to that. That is a logical consequence of how we now view the climate. We must start making products in Europe again at a transportable distance.”
That development also means that the local value chain is more crucial than ever – and with it, the importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing: exactly where the High Tech Platform can help.
What can help here is that the industry’s image has improved considerably in recent years. Voncken: “For a long time, many people thought it was dirty work. The high-tech environment with clean rooms and working with super accuracy have helped to change the image completely. Now it is a modern place with a lot of attention to sustainability, where also young people like to work.”
Despite this image improvement, the Netherlands has a significant shortage of skilled workers, the real makers. Voncken: “People often do not realize what is involved in producing a complex design in practice. I always say: you have to get offices on the shop floor. That wall between the shop floor and the offices has to go. At Philips you also used to have to go on the floor as an engineer to know what that means.”
Within Mikrocentrum, something has been thought up to address this. A pilot training program, especially for ASML’s supply chain, has been set up based on bringing parties together. Two participants per company may be delegated to work together with ASML employees. “A great example of knowledge sharing within the chain from supplier to end-user,” Voncken said.
Trade shows and training courses are perfect ways to secure knowledge for the entire chain precisely because like-minded people can meet there. One person knows something that the other does not yet know, and vice versa – it can just be the beginning of an important further development. “Every company has to keep an eye out for innovation,” Voncken says. “At KMWE, we have always looked for innovation and taken the regular risk of starting something new.” What is essential here is that this is not just imposed from above. “You have to let people at the machines think with you about what is best for them.”
Innovation requires trust. Holthuis, Voncken, and Roos see hesitation among some entrepreneurs when implementing, for example, techniques based on robotization and artificial intelligence (AI). Roos: “I see AI as an opportunity for the market if you know how to deploy this technology well. Digitalization and robotization will play a major role in solving personnel shortages. Knowledge sharing about AI is therefore very crucial.”
To clear up hesitations around Industry 4.0, Mikrocentrum and DSPE started the bi-monthly talk show Techcafé last year. “We set up that event so that SMEs can hear what they can do with it in their manufacturing company. The moment they want to know more, we have our trade shows and our courses.”
The 40th anniversary will be celebrated in a big way. Because the High Tech Platform members are all over the Netherlands, the anniversary will be celebrated at 3 locations: yesterday (June 1) in Enschede, September 6 in Rotterdam and October 5 in Eindhoven. Do you want to be there? Then sign up at: https://mikrocentrum.nl/nl/high-tech-platform/40-jaar/