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In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Mary Fiers, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All five contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on solving the problems of our time. Everything to make Tomorrow Good. This Sunday, it‘s Maarten Steinbuch’s turn. Here are all the previously published columns.

Who remembers, at the end of 2008? Almost ten years ago now. The banking crisis and the unprecedented economic downturn. I remember the people at DAF telling me that in one week the orders collapsed by 60% and many existing orders were canceled. In our region, we feared the early nineties scenario with the collapse of DAF and the redundancies at Philips. In 2008, I was already chairman of the Stichting Techniekpromotie (Foundation for the Promotion of Technology) for a few years, and in that year, too, I was working hard within the TU/e to increase the number of students. At that time, we had 6,500 students. The region was crying out for new technical talent. So we did everything we could to get the foundation (including the First Lego League) to promote technology for children. And then the banking crisis broke out, at the end of the year.

We feared the large-scale dismissal of knowledge workers, particularly in our region in the area of high-tech. And we also knew that after such a downturn, the upturn would again lead to a shortage of technicians. So what to do? The answer was the Knowledge Workers Deal. The money that was ready for unemployment benefits was used via the companies to bring employees together in projects with knowledge institutions. A number of beautiful projects were created, resulting in the 3D printer of the Printvalley Project, among many other things.

I remember that we had freed up space at the faculty, and that was where 15 engineers from DAF and its suppliers came to work. Together with the researchers in my group, we spent a year and a half working on the very first DAF truck with a hybrid drive: a diesel engine together with an electric motor. It was a special period: with so many people at the same time, with a concrete goal, with new knowledge and existing practical experience, with students and experienced designers, at a co-location in an inspiring environment. It looked a lot like a student team!

The project with DAF has resulted in a real prototype, as well as a strengthening of the cooperation between us and DAF. One experienced employee still works with us in the group, one day a week. It’s a win-win: we learn from the real practical problems, and from the experience, the employee can acquire new knowledge and do research with young talent.For a long time, someone from Oce has also worked with us in the group, and we now have a number of TNO and ASML employees doing research with us at TU/e. Our High Tech Systems Center employs experienced people from VDL/ETG for example and many others for the high tech part, and from Marel to strengthen the line with agro/food.

The Knowledge Workers Deal has taught me that accelerating innovation benefits from co-location, trust, setting challenging goals, and that as a group you behave a bit like a student team.

This is exactly what we want to achieve with the Eindhoven Engine! Exponential innovation, together with all parties: industry, social organizations, government, knowledge institutions such as TU/e, TNO, Fontys, Summa and other MBOs. A lot is already happening in our region, but there is still room for improvement! Also in today’s economic prosperity. Now, in 2018, on our way to a new version of the Knowledge Workers Deal!