Innovation Cluster Drachten is Smart Industry Fieldlab

27 januari 2020 | The "fieldlab" status that the ICD may use is a legitimate confirmation of their exemplary role for the future manufacturing industry.

“ICD dynamics brings companies and talents together”

Companies in the Innovation Cluster Drachten (ICD) are all highly digitized and make use of smart and flexible production methods. They also run numerous educational programs together with knowledge institutes. The Fieldlab status is the well-deserved confirmation of ICD’s role as an example for the future manufacturing industry.

Egbert-Jan Sol is an example of a knowledge worker who left Fryslân after completing his studies and whose professional career has taken him all over the country. ,,I still have relatives living in Wijnjewoude, and I regularly visit the Northern Netherlands, for instance to see the great things Innovation Cluster Drachten is doing,” says Smart Industry Program Director and CTO of TNO, Egbert-Jan Sol. On behalf of the Dutch Smart Industry Program, set up by TNO, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, Koninklijke Metaalunie, FME, and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, Sol presented ICD with the plaque that goes with the official Smart Industry Fieldlab status to which ICD is now entitled.

Real-life environments

Fieldlabs are real-life environments in which companies and knowledge institutes purposefully develop, test and implement Smart Industry solutions. They are also learning environments in which people learn to apply these solutions. Fieldlabs stimulate collaboration with research institutes, educational institutes and local and regional governments. The Netherlands has 45 Smart Industry Fieldlabs in which over 500 companies, knowledge institutes and governments collaborate. Other Fieldlabs in the Northern Netherlands are 5Groningen, the organization working on the rollout the latest generation of mobile internet, the shared smart factory of Technologies Added in Emmen, and Region of Smart Factories, the partnership of Northern Netherlands manufacturing companies.

Employee shortage

Sol outlines a far from rosy, but realistic future for the technical manufacturing industry in which Fieldlabs will be necessary to help companies get through the next 10 to 20 years. ,,Companies that want to digitize or employ smart-industry technologies may find it hard to adopt a practical approach,” explains Sol. ,,A Smart Industry Fieldlab assists in and stimulates the application of smart technologies and digital solutions, for instance to create new business opportunities. Due to legal changes and the past economic crisis, we now have a large outflow of people who retire while fewer young people enter the labor market. This will lead to a shortage of technical employees in the coming decades. How should employers deal with this?” The average age of the current workforce is 40. These people completed their studies at a time when access to the internet was rare and they therefore often lack digital skills. ,,But they are also the people who have to work on the Internet of Things (IoT). This is a bigger problem than the shortage on the labor market, as these people still continue to work for the company for at least 25 years.” Sol believes that the productivity will have to double in the coming years to compensate for the shortage of technical employees. ,,Twenty-five years from now, today’s forty-somethings will retire and then the employees who are now in their twenties will have to do twice as much work. This means that the current workforce needs extra training and a Fieldlab like Innovation Cluster Drachten can help with this. ICD can provide training for current employees and ensure that technological talents keep their knowledge up to date.”

Sharing knowledge

Things change so fast that nobody can keep up on their own. ,,You have to share knowledge and experience with others and the companies of Innovation Cluster Drachten are rather good at this,” says Sol. ,,In the USA, innovation is a top-down process and companies keep all knowledge to themselves. This is different in Europe. Netherlands is an innovative country, but innovation is not top-down. We share knowledge on the work floor based on mutual trust and assume the other people do not cheat. Collaborating, sharing and innovating together is better than competing with each other.” In the Eindhoven region, for instance, collaboration has always gone smoothly and this resulted in rapid growth. ,,People don’t cheat on each other because they will meet each other again on the soccer field, in the pub or in church. This phenomenon is more important than subsidies. It also exists as a network or ecosystem in the Northern Netherlands, and Innovation Cluster Drachten plays an important role in this.’’

More information on the Smart Industry Fieldlabs


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