New field lab gives Northern Netherlands high-tech industry a leading edge

12 oktober 2016 | There are endless possibilities and challenges in high tech, and this prompted the Innovation Cluster Drachten (ICD) to open a Shared Facility Center where companies and researchers collaborate on the future.

This center is located in an old piece of industrial heritage in Drachten: the Philips AA building. Here companies share precompetitive knowledge and experience. The building also houses an industrial 3D metal printer. “This is how we give the Northern Netherlands a leading edge in high-tech industry.”

In the ICD Shared Facility Center, engineers and students get a taste of the latest technologies. The new industrial 3D metal printer, which is the pride of the center, is a joint investment of the ICD companies. “It is not a production machine, but a development machine,” explains Kor Visscher, Chair of the Innovation Cluster Drachten. “We have a larger version of the 3D printer at the University of Groningen, one of the collaborative partners in ICD. They focus on scientific research, whereas we test how the machine can be used in product development and production processes. ICD partner Resato International in Assen will install a production machine that will be used by a partnership of companies in the province of Drenthe with a view to gaining experience.”

Taking the lead

The Shared Facility Center is not the first achievement of the current 15 cooperating high-tech companies. How do they realize this? “Quite simply by sharing precompetitive knowledge and experience,” says Visscher, “We allow each other behind-the-scene peeks before entering the market with our products. In our research into innovative products or services, we face similar challenges. By tackling these challenges together, we come up with much better solutions faster. This ensures that our products are among the best and most innovative products in the world.” The high-tech companies are currently collaborating on two large R&D projects and have five joint projects in the start-up phase. They also collaborate in 35 smaller or larger groups on, for instance, laboratories, test equipment, test rooms, and a joint vacancy platform. By collaborating, the high-tech cluster develops knowledge that would be beyond the reach of individual companies because of lack of time or lack of financial resources. “The exchange must ultimately result in regional value chains that add as much value as possible,” says Visscher. “This chain approach makes us a frontrunner in high-tech industry in the Northern Netherlands.”

Industrial heritage

In 1946, local entrepreneurs joined forces in a committee to promote industrial activities in Drachten in an effort to reduce large-scale unemployment in the years after the Second World War. Visscher: “Drachten was badly in need of industrial activities and offered very attractive terms to starting companies. In 1949, they built a multi-tenant industrial building. This was the first of its kind in the Northern Netherlands. Philips took over the building in 1961. Now this historic building is the location where companies work together on solutions for the future.”

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