Naomie Verstraeten, Wouter Leibbrandt, Hans Meeske, Rutger van Poppel, Marc Hamilton- Photo © Bram Saeys

Systems Engineering makes a fundamental contribution to the competitive position of the high-tech manufacturing industry in Brainport Eindhoven. Yet you hardly ever hear the term and there are large differences in its interpretation, so that knowledge often remains within one company or even a single department. Moreover, existing training courses can hardly meet the real need for systems engineers. To change this,  TNOBrainport DevelopmentHolland Innovative, the High Tech Systems Center at TU Eindhoven, and VDL ETG have joined forces.

In the coming years, together with a lot of other companies, they are going to put their energy into a better definition of the term, the exchangeability of systems engineering processes in the region, and in the establishment of a more targeted system of education. To achieve all this, the initiative has designed three phases; the first is focused on “shared description of the Brainport way of Systems Engineering”. The intention is to open up the initiative to all stakeholders in the ecosystem, from educational institutions (such as Fontys Universities of Applied Sciences and the other universities of technology in the Netherlands) to industry (with an important role for SMEs) and government agencies. In the long term, the results should also improve the competitive position of Brainport Eindhoven.

Naomie Verstraeten (Brainport Development), Wouter Leibbrandt (TNO ESI), Marc Hamilton (HTSC), Hans Meeske (Holland Innovative) and Hans Evers (VDL ETG) signed the cooperation agreement at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven on April 19. In his introductory speech, Wouter Leibbrandt elaborated on the reasons behind the initiative: “If there is one thing that has become clear to us, it is the crucial role of system thinking and mastering system complexity as a fundament to be successful. We need to foster this competency.”

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Naomie Verstraeten added that systems engineering is the basis of the entire high-tech manufacturing industry, in addition to technical knowledge and skills. “Not only in Brainport but throughout the Netherlands. It is partly something cultural but partly also a competency that must be made explicit so that we can also secure it for future generations.” The agreement was preceded by dozens of conversations and international fact-finding missions, Verstraeten said. “It is part of our strategic Brainport agenda for the next four years. This will ensure that our high-tech industry can continue to grow and therefore make an even greater contribution to our national earning power. The high-tech industry is crucial in building solutions for the major societal challenges and transitions of our time.”

Such transitions offer great market opportunities for our high-tech manufacturing industry, said Rutger van Poppel of Brainport Development, said Rutger van Poppel of Brainport Development. “Systems engineering underpins our leading market position, particularly on complex high-tech systems. By activating our network, realizing crossovers, and setting up joint projects, we believe that we can achieve the establishment of systems engineering competencies in a sustainable way.” 

Read more about the fact-finding missions and other preparatory work as the prequel for the agreement

What is Systems Engineering?

Systems Engineering is a structured way of working to develop complex systems. This means that it is not a key technology in itself, but it is a core competency that underlies the success of the high-tech ecosystem in the Brainport Eindhoven region. The competency to work systematically is the basis on which increasingly complex systems and machines can be developed in the region. It, therefore, contributes significantly to the various key technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. Being able to deal with this kind of multidisciplinarity, which is increasingly demanded of the high-tech industry, is a Systems Engineering issue par excellence.

After two years of research, the project partners have come to the conclusion that the complexity of developing high-tech (production) systems is constantly increasing. On the one hand, this is due to the integration of new technologies and, on the other, to higher market demands. “We are the best in making the most complex machines and offer the people the opportunity to work there”, added Hans Meeske. “We need to bring together the knowledge from all over the world; this initiative is to organize the blind spots and the strengths, and work on the career paths of talents from all over the world.”

Hans Evers also stressed the importance of well-educated talents: “We fully support this initiative as it is key to us to have sufficient well-educated systems-engineers, now as well as in the future.” In part, this will be the role of the university. Marc Hamilton: “It is important for Eindhoven University of technology that, in addition to the engineering disciplines, the overarching and integrating profession of system engineering is also safeguarded and further developed in research and education. This requires close cooperation with the practicing and contributing companies and institutions in the high-tech equipment ecosystem. This agreement is, therefore, a strategic milestone on the road to strengthening the system engineering profession.”

According to the initiators, the nature of the Eindhoven ecosystem requires an approach that goes beyond the general textbooks. “During our exploration, we looked in the United States and Canada, among others, where interesting examples can be found,” says Van Poppel. “Systems Engineering is a fundamental competency for the competitive position of the high-tech manufacturing industry in Brainport. But now that we see that the complexity and multidisciplinarity of developing high-tech production systems are steadily increasing, this no longer just requires preservation, but in particular the further development of the way we do Systems Engineering in the region. Including the complementary competencies of the companies and their staff.” And that’s more than copying knowledge from existing books, Van Poppel notes. “It is all very dependent on the specific context and application market. For Brainport, that is the complex high-tech precision technology. So we will have to solve that ourselves here.”

Earnings

After signing the agreement © Bram Saeys

If their plan succeeds, the initiators see four ways in which the project can contribute to a structural improvement of the economic earning power of the sector:

  • Personnel and talent are trained according to the “Brainport Systems Engineering way of working,” so talents can better meet the needs of industry, 
  • Learning paths of students and professionals are accelerated through closer cooperation between the various Systems Engineering programs and their training,
  • The supply of Systems Engineering talent is increased, student enrollment in related programs increases, and the quality of Systems Engineering personnel is enhanced,
  • Companies can improve their collaboration in product development projects.

For now, the initiators are particularly pleased that phase 1 can get underway. Van Poppel: “The main purpose of this phase is to increase the explicitness of the way in which we do Systems Engineering. A shared description of the Brainport way of Systems Engineering must form the basis for realizing the intended added value: a better match between training and the needs and methods of our industry.”

Or, i Wouter Leibbrandt’s words: “Until now, systems thinking as a success factor for Brainport and the Netherlands has been a well-kept secret. Now we have to follow through and invest in systematic training in systems engineering, from Bachelor’s to life-long-learning.”

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Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.