Arnaud de Jong, TNO, © Bram Saeys
Author profile picture

The Dutch high-tech and manufacturing industry is crucial to our future earning power. With a 12% share of our GDP and half of our total exports, this is already largely the case, but those numbers can go up further, says TNO’s managing director of high-tech industry Arnaud de Jong. He was the keynote speaker at Brainport Industries’ annual conference yesterday.

Speaking in the main hall of Mikrocentrum in Veldhoven, De Jong gave a keen view of the enormous opportunities that the Netherlands has in various high-tech value chains – provided some concrete concerns can be addressed in time. “My central message: by 2040, we can have created a handful of new ASMLs,” he told a room of several hundred Brainport Industries members and partners.

What matters then are “control points“: unique capabilities or achievements in the value chain that are difficult to replace by others and that the world cannot ignore. “The big example in that area for us is ASML, but it doesn’t only have to be about a unique technology. You can also create control points with a certain production process or even through the loyalty of your customers. If you have such a control point, you matter.”

According to De Jong, we are moving toward an industry that operates 100% sustainably and is 150% more productive than today. Moreover, 50% of sales come from new value chains. In terms of value chains, he sees four concrete directions:

  1. High-tech for a healthy society: remote monitoring, biomedical production, non-contact sensing, implants.
  2. High-tech for sustainable processes: energy conversion and storage, recycling, bio-based materials.
  3. High-tech for transformational digital technologies: optical (satellite) communications, quantum, and photonic chips.
  4. High-tech for defense and security: optical satellite communications, quantum, autonomous systems.
Arnaud de Jong, TNO

Areas of concern

While the opportunities are there for the taking, there are also areas of concern that may trouble us on our way to that handful of new ASMLs. “Much of this is about recognizing and appreciating the four defining success factors: achieving innovation and growth with new value chains, securing your ‘license to operate’ in times of stringent regulation, strengthening your global competitive position, and creating long-term sustainability. I see now that many other countries have that sorted out better than we have. We are very good at developing new technologies, but in terms of entrepreneurship, it could all be a bit sharper.”

De Jong finds evidence of this in the difficulty Dutch start-ups have in growing from start-up to scale-up. “That is worrisome. We are bad at scaling up and that has everything to do with entrepreneurship. In other countries, I see much more guts and higher investment rates. The same goes for our R&D intensity and the degree of industry digitalization. We really need to do something extra there; we need to leave our state of slumber.”

Long term

The potential is there, as are the fundamental technologies needed for a defining role in the new value chains. But potential alone won’t get you there, De Jong emphasizes at the end of his talk. “If, unlike abroad, you don’t have a long-term vision of innovation policy, you put yourself at a disadvantage. Of course, we have a great National Growth Fund, but that is finite. Who is already thinking about the period after that? And apart from that, with our 2.3% R&D spending, we are still far away from the EU ambition of 3%, while Germany is already at 3.2%, Belgium at 3.5%, and Finland even at 4%. Yes, on the one hand we should be more proud of those potential control points, but at the same time, let’s get out of that slumber, let’s leave our comfort zone. Entrepreneurship with guts can eventually give us that handful of new ASMLs.”

Brainport Industries voorzitter John Blankendaal spreekt de volle zaal op het jaarcongres in Mikrocentrum toe. Foto © Bram Saeys
Brainport Industries chair John Blankendaal – Photo © Bram Saeys

“If you don’t believe in youth, you don’t believe in your own future either!”

John Vullings

William Pijnenburg Award

At the end of the official part of the annual conference, it was again time for the presentation of the William Pijnenburg Award. William’s daughter Manon Pijnenburg was there to present the award on behalf of the jury (with Anke Meuffels, Peter Manders, Yvonne van Mierlo, and Martine Dubling) to John Vullings of Vullings Metaalbewerking in Horst ad Maas.

The William Pijnenburg Award, named after the former owner of AAE, stands for a commitment to promoting technology, providing employment, and training future technical talent. And that is exactly what the jury found at Vullings. From their report: “Vullings is a future-oriented company that secures talent development within the organization. Training is logical at Vullings. Employees get plenty of time and opportunities to continue developing themselves and coach new employees. Internal knowledge retention is also an important point of attention, and Vullings is a strong connecting factor across the various Brainport regions. The company is, therefore, the rightful winner of the William Pijnenburg Award 2023.”

John Vullings showed himself honored with the award in his acceptance speech. “Attracting and training skilled workers is essential to us, so it makes me enormously proud that we are being rewarded. I can only say to everyone here: train more youth because if you don’t believe in youth, you don’t believe in your own future either!”

John Vullings en Manon Pijnenburg. Foto © Bram Saeys
John Vullings, Manon Pijnenburg. Foto © Bram Saeys