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Hien Kieu hasn’ t taken off his coat yet and his work is already on the table: a large folder with sketches and designs. Enthusiastically he flips through the folder and shows what is happening at his company Kieu Engineering. In February Kieu opens space on the Brainport Industries Campus, where he and his team will work with various companies on innovation programs on the campus. Kieu: “I really enjoy thinking up solutions that others don’t see.”

“Actually my life is more beautiful than a novel. I have experienced all kinds of things and I wouldn’t want to trade with anyone.” – Hien Kieu

A machine to sand worn-out stairs, a trolley to make maintenance on roller coasters easier and a way to remove the train set from the rails. These are just a few examples from Kieu’s map. Last summer the agency won a Red Dot Design Award for a grapple they developed for Nemag. “This was the first time we’d made something like that, such a prize is great to win. But that’s not what it’s all about for me. Am I proud of it? I just do my job, I really enjoy it. I believe that’s more important.”

Kieu fled from his native country as a young boy during the Vietnam War. In a motorboat, he left with about 65 others in search of a better life. After an eight-day trip, the leaking boat was picked up by a Dutch ship in the Chinese Sea, after which he ended up in the Netherlands via Singapore. Kieu does not want to talk too much about this, he is happy with the life he is living now. “I have a beautiful life. I have had misery and survived. It’s about having fun and doing what makes you happy.”

Put things into perspective

The skill to put things into perspective is important he emphasizes: “Imagine you get a 2 for a test at school, you don’t want to experience that again. Sometimes you get a 2 for life, that is a lesson from which you learn something. I am happy for all the lessons I have received in my life.” Kieu stops for a moment and then starts laughing: “Actually my life is more beautiful than a novel. I have experienced all kinds of things and I wouldn’t want to trade with anyone.”

Then he grabs his folder again and continues browsing. “Look, this is a beautiful machine”, he points to a drawing of a robot arm that places toilet parts in a train. “The machine has to put heavy parts in the right place in small spaces, employees should not lift too much, that’s not good for their backs. You have to take that into account as well.”

tekening Hien Kieu
One of Hien Kieu’s drawings

The bigger and more complicated the problem, the bigger the smile of Kieu gets. “First finding a solution to a difficult problem and then on to the next issue, that’s how I prefer to work. The magic of technology is that you can make it as complicated as you want, but often you find the solution in something very simple. People think too difficult.”

“Technicians are often more romantic than you think.” – Hien Kieu

What is that like when he walks the street, does he constantly see things he would do differently? “It fascinates me to look at other designs, if you’re interested you can learn from that.” He points at the light in front of him on the table and mentions the way the lamps are attached, the round shapes, the way the light falls on the table. These are details, he says. “I have a lot of respect and appreciation for the creations of others. They put intellectual thinking power into it, that is pure, you have to keep away from it.” He continues with the analysis of the lamp, it is a composition according to him. “If you can’t enjoy that, you really miss something of the world. Technicians are often more romantic than you think.”

Kieu finds the creative process too beautiful to leave behind, where he sees employees struggling, he joins in and makes a first quick draft. With about 100 employees, he admits, he should actually concentrate more on managing the company. “But coming up with ideas is far too much fun. Developing a concept together with a customer is the best there is. I enjoy it when they get enthusiastic about the solutions we come up with. For example, there is a customer who is already waiting for me when I arrive, they are longing for my inventions.”


According to him, this is because he manages to keep it simple, with minimalist drawings he explains his ideas to customers. But it is also important that what the agency thinks up can also be created and built by them. The engineers in the Netherlands produce the overall concept. “Which cylinder should be where? Which parts do we need? How heavy is it going to be? What will it cost? If the customer agrees, we work it out in detail and everything is recalculated”, says Kieu. The production drawings are made in Vietnam, where about 75 people work for Kieu Engineering. According to Kieu, they draw a lot faster there than in the Netherlands. Even with simple sketches, they know how to make completely correct production drawings. “It saves a lot of time and ensures that our engineers in the Netherlands can work on more challenging tasks. Because which engineer only wants to make drawings? They want to create something and solve problems.” Next, they work this out into a prototype in the Netherlands. “This way it becomes more than an idea, from something you draw on paper to working machines that companies can use.”