Hans Praat: "Brainport II lies on the Wadden Sea"

On behalf of NOM, Hans Praat directs Region of Smart Factories (RoSF), the second and largest field lab in the Netherlands. He is also quartermaster of Technologies Added in Emmen, where the first joint smart factory in the Netherlands has been set up. Hans talks about the importance of the factory of the future for our region and what appeals to him as a business developer about this project.

"What motivates me above all is the social relevance of an innovative program like RoSF. Smart factories are indispensable for a strong industry and a healthy labor market. I find it very important that our initiatives have real impact, and that is certainly the case with RoSF. Preparing companies for the themes of the future is what inspires me as a purebred business developer!"

Smart manufacturing offers endless possibilities

"As is often the case with business development, RoSF started small. Namely with a project at Fokker to develop a flawless factory. Where you can predict the production process exactly and everything goes exactly the way you want it to. That eventually grew into Region of Smart Factories, a multi-year program in which forty SME companies and knowledge institutions in the Northern Netherlands work together on the factory of the future.

My vision of the manufacturing industry in the near future is that it can only be successful with smart products and smart processes. In other words, products and processes that contain intelligence and are therefore autonomous. Think of machines that can set themselves. The factory of the future makes optimal use of digitization, artificial intelligence and robotics. And you're going to see that reflected everywhere, whether in street lamps, transportation systems, toothbrushes or children's toys. All those products, machines and suppliers together form another system in which everything is linked. This will create an intelligent, digital society.

And once that new intelligent system is flawless, then endless possibilities for new products and businesses open up. Because then you can make anything you want, including products completely tailored to the demand of an individual consumer. That's the world we're heading into, and it's asking a lot of companies. For we are talking about the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. That offers wonderful opportunities, but also threats if you don't respond to it adequately. And that is the goal of RoSF: to bring companies into this complex transformation in time so that they are prepared for this new world. After all, not changing is not an option."

The factory of the future is a shared facility

"Within Region of Smart Factories, we are working with 11 pilots. In these, large and small companies work together with solution providers on a specific theme around the factory of the future. For Philips, for example, we are renewing parts of the production process to make it smart, autonomous and intelligent. Thus, within these pilots we are building different pieces of smart factories by developing new technology. So for SMEs, RoSF is a springboard to take important steps towards their own smart factory.

From RoSF, hundreds of spin-offs have now emerged, including an assessment to determine where you stand as a company on the smart-factory scale. This assessment has now become the national standard. But the highlight for me is Technologies Added in Emmen. I dare say this is the spin-off that is going to have the most impact. Together with a number of companies, the old Philips factory has been bought to set up a joint smart factory. Similar companies can produce here under one roof. My expectation is that in ten years all modern manufacturing companies will operate in similar structures. Building their own factory is something the next generation will no longer do, partly because of the large footprint. Producing in a shared facility will then become the standard. By preparing for this now, we ensure that the Northern Netherlands remains attractive for companies.

I am very happy with what we have achieved so far. The Netherlands now has some 40 fieldlabs, these are important ecosystems and practical environments in which companies can make the transition to Industry 4.0. RoSF was the second fieldlab in the Netherlands and still the largest. So we were there early and we can rightly call ourselves a frontrunner and trailblazer. The program can therefore count on a great deal of interest, both at home and in Europe. Technologies Added is also the first joint smart factory in the world and that too is gaining international recognition."

Coming up with innovations that have impact

"The next step is to further develop RoSF into a Smart Industry Hub. At NOM we have set up a new program for this, of which I am quartermaster. For example, we will go from forty to four hundred SMEs in the Northern Netherlands. Industry associations, provinces and other field labs will also be involved. The content is also broadening. After all, now that smart factories are on the map, it is time for the next phase. And that, in my vision, is combining Smart Industry with green chemistry and circular economy. That combination is unique, perhaps worldwide. And I sincerely believe that we in the Northern Netherlands have very good cards to play an important role in this, if not the most important. It is not for nothing that I like to say that Brainport II lies on the Wadden Sea!

My role from NOM is to look into the future and determine what will be dominant themes ten years from now. So that we can strengthen and prepare our region for these developments. So we look beyond the SME companies themselves and then develop the programs and ecosystems that are needed for this. This is also what drives and motivates me as a true business developer: inventing and developing innovations that have impact. Smart factories, for example, are an important condition for keeping our labor market healthy. If we want to keep everyone employed, we will really have to invest in smart manufacturing. After all, the factory of the future not only employs robots, but also many people. From highly skilled to low skilled.

Of course, I am particularly proud that with RoSF we are making a really important contribution to the northern economy and labor market. And that we recognized the social relevance of Smart Industry at an early stage. For we at NOM are particularly good at listening in our network to the people who make the difference, the so-called difference makers. And then to bring the right parties together to realize these ideas. For me, this is genuinely the nicest job in the Northern Netherlands!"

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