The Netherlands once had an aircraft manufacturer whose last name we all know; Anthony Fokker. A name that achieved world fame, until his company went bankrupt in 1996. Fortunately, that was not the end of Fokker. His name and part of the company continued under other owners, including Fokker Aerostructures in Hoogeveen.
"We don't build complete aircraft here, we make structural parts. Wing parts for example, doors or tails," explains site director Mischa Baert. Hoogeveen employs some 900 people, making this factory one of the largest in the region. Baert: "Whether our sales can be captured in numbers? About 2,500 parts per year. Those are already whole composite pieces."
Fokker Aerostructures' projects run from the very beginning to after-market support; they provide a total package. "We really produce in partnership with the customer. The latter is involved in the process from the very first moment." Is everything customized? "Absolutely. We don't sell our own products 'on the side' as well. You always design together with the customer. You have to, in aviation all parts are geared to each other and everything listens closely. That has been the case for a long time."
Fokker's customers can be found all over the world. "Our end customers include Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. These are large companies; we also have some smaller customers. They don't seem like that many, but the trajectories are extensive and long-term, so we work together for a long time. The customers also invest, the initial costs are relatively high in aviation. Often a successful program lasts as long as 20 or 25 years."
This touches on the biggest challenge for Fokker Aerostructures: looking into the future. "You have to be ahead of the music. Even in 15 years, our ideas must be applicable. The horizon here is far ahead. Your program must also be a success a few years from now." Examples of innovations for the future include the use of new materials, such as thermoplastic composites, and a variety of production techniques, such as additive manufacturing in composite. Fokker is moving into the future innovatively, but doing so within a conservative industry. "It's not always easy to come up with new things. Safety and technical acceptance are very important here."
In aviation, everything listens closely
With its strength in size and name, Fokker Aerostructures wants to help build a better foundation for the northern Netherlands. "We are here for the long term. That's why we look beyond our noses. We don't just think about our own immediate needs, and that's where we find NOM. Like them, we are active in the region and we pull together to also get others to the Northern Netherlands or build on successes here. With our involvement in projects like WCCS and RoSF, we work together with local parties in industry and education to build long-term knowledge development and competitive advantage, for us and our partners."
Fokker also wants to be competitive in the long term. "How to get children from a certain age more interested in technology is a relevant question for us. Technology is changing; it's increasingly about IT and programming, for example. We want our current and future employees to grow with us to successfully deal with what is coming in 5 years and beyond. For example, we are working on the Fokker 4.0 project. In it, we are trying to get a sharp focus on what we need to do to properly implement digitization. An important point that emerged is that many employees are eager to get started with new technology, as long as they receive proper guidance in doing so."