Hans Praat 'Do like Hydraloop: make your product a Smart Product and your factory a Smart Factory'

Last week, the Hydraloop won all the major awards at the CES in Las Vegas and made entrepreneurial couple Arthur Valkieser and Sabine Stuiver instantly world famous. DWDD, the NOS eight o'clock news, the front page of the New York Times. There was no end to it.

You know what's great about that? Sure, the Hydraloop is a wonderful product of the Northern Netherlands as an innovation region. It was conceived at the Water Campus in Leeuwarden, courtesy of the Province of Fryslân's long-standing commitment, and is produced at Technologies Added's Shared Smart Factory in Emmen, courtesy of the Province of Drenthe. And the NOM, fair is fair.

But what's even better: the Hydraloop proves Smart Industry right. Make your product 'smart' and your customers will fall for you like a log. Make it in a 'Smart Factory' and you'll make money from it too. Also nice for the region where it all happens, because Smart Industry is the real job engine of the future.

What exactly is that, "Smart? It's thrown around everywhere. Outside the Netherlands people talk about Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the Netherlands we call it Smart Industry and in the North we call it the Smart Factory. Hipsters carelessly say Digitalization or Digital Twinning. Don't panic, at its core it all means the same thing.

What is a Smart Factory?

To begin with the most difficult question: what is the Smart Factory? People who don't like math like to explain it as follows: the Smart Factory is a sum of new technologies (such as robotics or 3D printing), new business models (using your product as a service, circularity) and digitization (think big data, artificial intelligence and 5G). Add a little "The New Way of Working" and you're done.

I can already hear you breathing a sigh of relief. "So an evolution after all." But we don't want to get off that easy, because it's not true. Looking at the technology and revenue models-side, it is indeed at most an acceleration and accumulation of innovations. Has been playing for a long time; will take a long time.

The real breakthrough is coming, but it is taking place largely behind the scenes. You cannot tell how smart a company is by the number of robots it has. That says more about the sector in which the company operates. Soon everything in and around the factory will be connected to the Internet. So the people who work there, their workstations, the tools they use, the machines and the machines of suppliers, even the semi-finished and finished products, even if they are in the field.

Everything gets its own IP address and starts generating a huge amount of data. Analyzing that data will create insights about how things are connected and affect each other like never before. No process engineer with 40 years of experience can compete with that. We will be measuring, modeling, simulating and optimizing on a large scale, soon even fully automated, and storing expertise, and that will lead to a level of process control (error-free, first time right, autonomous systems) that is unprecedented. Many of today's barriers will disappear as a result. Count your winnings:

  • we can produce customer-specific;
  • we are going to make products that could not even be made before;
  • We'll probably just do that again in the Netherlands;
  • with a minimal footprint;
  • we can even make the good products from deviant materials or in unstable processes;
  • and productivity shoots through the ceiling.

What more could you want? Companies are going to make giant leaps in the coming years. Still not convinced? Then check out a video from Siemens on YouTube about Digital Twinning with the exciting title, "What would you make, if you knew you could not fail."

We haven't even started yet. Are we too late?

On the contrary. We are only on the eve of the Smart Industry era. You're in good company, because most companies are waiting to see what happens. You could even say that it was smart to wait a little longer. As the Smart Factory becomes mainstream, standards are emerging, the technology is becoming affordable, and more and more companies are offering turnkey solutions for Smart Factories. It is important to start now, though, and no one can escape it. Laggards have to work harder and harder to make the same money.

Is that hard, becoming a Smart Factory?

Anyone who can keep a business afloat can make the transition to the Smart Factory version of their own business. You just have to be open to it. There's still a bit of a risk there. It concerns everyone, but not everyone is yet convinced of its usefulness and necessity. Feasible? Yes. Simple? No. The Smart Factory is not only about the production process, but about all dimensions. Experience shows that the organizational side is more difficult than the engineering side. And you need people who probably don't work for you now. So you have to work hard, but it more than pays off.

Any tips?

In the Northern Netherlands, you are definitely not alone. We put ourselves in the shop window as the Region of Smart Factories for a reason.

  • Join us at the Hannover Messe! Three hours away you will find 20 large halls full of inspiration, examples, frontrunners and visions. A bit too much of a good thing perhaps? Then get on our bus and let our experts show you around. Then you really see three times as much.
  • Or fill out our Smart Factory Assessment to see how Smart your company is, and what next steps you could take. Learn from practice! Take the Assessment
  • Join the Smart Industry Hub, launching this spring. All industry organizations in the Northern Netherlands will jointly roll out a Digitalization Delta Plan for Industrial SMEs. Companies can participate in workshops and master classes or create a roadmap together with experts. We will also participate as a region in the major European Smart Industry programs. The partners of the Smart Industry Hubs are the FME, Metaalunie, the NOM, the Fieldlabs Region of Smart Factories, Innovation Cluster Drachten, 5GGroningen, Technologies Added, NPAL, NHLStenden, the Hanzehogeschool, the University of Groningen, Northern Knowledge, Ik ben Drents Ondernemer and Ynbusiness.
  • And be sure to visit one of the Smart Factory solution providers for coffee. The Northern Netherlands now has a nice group of companies that specialize in this. I always say: big companies sell their product, small companies sell a solution. Pretty important when you're talking about the Smart Factory.

Opportunities for entrepreneurs

To show how big a difference it will make, I compare the current non-smart era as a world without maps, and the coming smart industry era as a world with maps, always up to date and detailed. Now it's gambling to reach your destination, sometimes running into someone to show you the way. Soon you'll be able to plot your exact route no matter where you want to go. And you'll know exactly what time you'll arrive. So in search of leeway as well as certainties, it will be a great time for entrepreneurs. You do have to 'get down to business' to establish the Smart Factory version of your own company. In the Northern Netherlands we help each other to do that. And if things go well, the world is at your feet. Just ask Arthur Valkieser and Sabine Stuiver of the Hydraloop.

Want to learn more about the Region of Smart Factories?

Stay up to date on the latest developments?

Subscribe to e-NOMMER (newsletter) Sign up NOMMER (magazine)