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12 JUNE 2020 | 14 SEPTEMBER 2020

NXP: SiGe is hot, automotive is not

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A quantum leap in qubit control

A CORONA TEST FOR THE MASSES


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Opinion

TRADE WAR Paul van Gerven is an editor at Bits&Chips.

Chip poker no more

T

he Trump administration was quick to throw a bucket of cold water on sparks of hope that US-Chinese trade tensions might simmer down in these trying times. After all, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume a quid-pro-quo deal had been hammered out when TSMC announced its intention to build an advanced fab on American soil. The US would have its domestic semiconductor manufacturing base strengthened, while the Taiwanese foundry would be allowed to keep supplying Chinese companies. Less than half a day later, however, the US Commerce Department unveiled new rules that require any chipmaker using US technology to obtain a license before supplying Huawei and affiliates. This doesn’t feel like a game of high-stakes chip poker anymore. The US isn’t bluffing to force concessions – it’s hell-bent on stopping the Chinese technological advancement in its tracks. Expect more of this, with or without Trump at the helm. The concerns in the US over China’s rise on the world stage as well as reliance on Asia for strategic technologies reach far beyond hawkish Republicanism. Tellingly, the Democrats have been silent on it, which in the current polarized political climate is the same as support. And these days, Trump trades blows with presidential candidate Joe Biden about who is too soft on China. The repercussions of this cannot be overstated. China likely will retaliate, throwing the world’s technology industry into disarray, worsening an already unprecedented recession looming in the wake of the corona pandemic. In parallel, the world’s tech supply chain will be reshaped radically.

To see how that will pan out, we only need to look at TSMC. Ever since president Trump fired the first shots in the US trade war with China, “everyone’s foundry” kept supplying both sides. But faced with being cut off from indispensable semiconductor equipment and IC design software, TSMC was forced out of neu-

The world’s tech supply chain will be reshaped radically trality. It chose the US: apart from building its first advanced fab outside Taiwan, the company reportedly will also stop making chips for Huawei. Sooner or later, tech companies all over the world will face the same choice. Or, if they’re lucky, it will be made for them, as we’ve seen with ASML. The equipment maker can still hide behind the Dutch government’s back, pointing out that the decision of whether or not to ship an EUV scanner to SMIC is out of its hands. But if the US succeeds in carving out China from the tech supply chain, it will affect ASML as well. Anything that disrupts that highly globalized and intertwined semiconductor supply chain has an effect on the Veldhoven behemoth. One could argue, as CEO Peter Wennink did, that ASML will sell its scanners one way or another because the demand for chips is a given. But is it, really, apart from worldwide recessions? Major American semi-

conductor and tech companies rely on China for a large chunk of their revenue. Losing this market is bad enough, but long-term, it could slow down tech innovation, which drives ASML’s sales. NXP’s situation is direr. The company is strongly focused on the Chinese market and has established a number of joint ventures with Chinese companies. The new rules will already be a headache, a full-blown cold tech war could tear the chipmaker apart. None of this is inevitable, of course. Faced with the huge fallout on both sides, there’s a chance the measures will be backpedaled. The frustrating part is that we Europeans have no sway in this. All we do can do is stand on the sidelines and pray. It’s a look into our future: the rulesbased trade system being replaced by two national-interest driven juggernauts following their own rules. Let it be a wake-up call.

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CONTENTS IN THIS ISSUE OF BITS&CHIPS

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14

News

News

NXP sees SiGe surge for mobile WLAN and 5G

Qblox readies its modular controller for a variety of quantum computers

While business in automotive is experiencing an unanticipated slowdown, NXP finds its RF front-ends in high demand.

Delft startup Qblox is paving the way for building quantum computers with up to a 1,000 qubits and beyond.

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Chip poker no more

News 7 8 9 13 14 17 20 24 43

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ASML projects immunity amid the corona crisis

Noise Automotive is suddenly NXP’s problem child Meanwhile, NXP sees SiGe surge for mobile WLAN and 5G ASML projects immunity amid the corona crisis Qblox readies its modular controller for a variety of quantum computers Qutech may have solved the quantum computer’s nasty cable problem A corona test for the masses Demand for Dutch diagnostic SMEs curves with corona Corona has German software houses shifting their business

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Software engineer turned business manager

Opinion 3 11 19 25 35 41 50

Chip poker no more – Paul van Gerven Optimizing for Wi-Fi 6 – Cees Links The headhunter – Anton van Rossum Corona crisis: chance for change – Anton Duisterwinkel Leadership isn’t only for the happy few – Hans Odenthal Industry 4.0 key to surviving the corona crisis – Robert Howe Dillydallying – Paul van Gerven

Background

44 UT and Axign put the brakes on radio interference


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A corona test for the masses Lionix, Qurin and Surfix, along with Photondelta, have set out to unlock the potential of integrated photonics for corona testing.

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4 NOVEMBER 2020, EINDHOVEN

UT and Axign put the brakes on radio interference

Theme Career and leadership 28 30 32 36

Software engineer turned business manager Working in IoT – smart, connected systems, a testimony Organization structure change shows promising first results Personal leadership is the key to a successful organization

Interview

7 OCTOBER 2020, EINDHOVEN

46 “My PhDs weren’t allowed to leave without leaving something on the table” 48 Branding mechatronics with the Dutch approach

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NEWS

NOISE

Semicon

Is TSMC’s US fab a big win for Trump? Not quite

Credit: TSMC

So, about that fab TSMC intends to build in the United States. At first glance, it seems like a big win for Trump, who has been adamant about restoring domestic

site and many more in the supply chain is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But what the Arizona facility won’t do, at least not any time soon, is reduce US reliance on Asian fabs for leading-edge semiconductors – another important ambition of Trump. After all, the fab is slated to start production of 5nm chips in 2024, by which time TSMC will already have moved to 3nm in Taiwan. So while customers like Apple, Qualcomm and AMD likely appreciate a domestic fab to ensure supply continuity in an unstable geopolitical climate, it’s unlikely that they will stop getting their chips from Taiwan. PvG

Semicon

Chinese IC industry not exactly taking off

manufacturing prowess. A 12 billion dollar investment for advanced semiconductor production, employing 1,600 people at the

China will fall far short of its Made in China 2025 goal for domestic semiconductor production, IC Insight predicts. The market research firm projects indigenous IC production in China will represent 20.7 percent of its 208 billion dollar market in 2024, not even a third of the 70 percent goal in 2025. The picture is even bleaker if foreign companies operating fabs in China are taken out of the equation. China-headquartered IC companies accounted for only 6.1 percent of Chi-

na’s total IC market last year, which includes imports. Overall, China-headquartered producers accounted for 38.7 percent of domestic IC output in the country. All this is very bad news for China, as the US is moving to cut off its rival from advanced semiconductor technology. Thus, building its own semiconductor industry gained even more urgency for China, but at the current rate, this is going to take decades. PvG

Artificial intelligence

Is coronavirus making AI dumb?

It looks like the coronavirus might have found its next victim: artificial intelligence. Fueled by global changes in buying habits and daily behavior, it seems that AI models are getting ‘confused.’ According to a report published in MIT Technology Review, many

Security

The coronavirus moved online

Public authorities all over the world reported sharp declines in most types of crime while quarantine measures were in effect. At least one type of crime, however, surged: cybercrime. Some digital thieves jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of the generally less secure connections people use to work from home, giving them an easier point of entry to install ransomware on corporate IT systems. Others were delighted with the fresh phishing opportunities the pandemic offers. Something along the lines of: “Your current bank card isn’t safe to use, please click here to receive a virusrepelling one.” Government offices and medical facilities, too, are frequently being targeted – to give the messages hackers send out more credibility, for example. Finally, some of the hacking is state sanctioned. Both the US and the UK claim foreign states have been attempting to steal coronavirus research from medical research organizations and pharmaceutical companies. PvG

of the machine learning models trained on tracking normal human behavior are solidifying what we already know – with the current pandemic, life is anything but normal. These hiccups in the algorithms are especially pronounced in the areas of inventory management, fraud detection and automation – forcing humans to step in to make physical corrections when things get too far out of balance. “Machine learning models are designed to respond to changes. But most are also fragile; they perform badly when input data differs too much from the data they were trained on,” says Rajeev Sharma, global VP of AI consultancy Pactera Edge. “It’s a mistake to assume you can set up an AI system and walk away.” CA 3

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NEWS CHIPS

Automotive is suddenly NXP’s problem child The automotive chip market was poised to become the place-to-be in the semiconductor industry. But right now, the corona pandemic is throwing a wrench in the gears, as NXP is experiencing. Paul van Gerven

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Left in the dark

This is particularly the case for NXP’s crown jewel, its automotive business. With cars increasingly fitted with electronic functions and electric cars gaining momentum, the automotive chip arena seemed like a very attractive place to be. KPMG, for example, last year projected a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.7 percent through 2040, outpacing the semiconductor industry as a whole by quite a margin. But, obviously, this all hinges on cars being actually built – and sold. Now that car factories and their suppliers all over the world have been forced to halt operations, NXP is getting hit hard. The automotive unit, which accounts for almost half of the company’s annual revenue, saw a sequential sales decline of 9 percent in Q1 and another 25-30 percent drop is expected for Q2. These are exceptional numbers, and NXP is left in the dark about how long it will feel 8

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NXP is a pioneer in automotive radar technology, used for blind-spot detection and automatic emergency braking, among other things.

Credit: NXP

ver since taking the helm 11.5 years ago, Rick Clemmer has worked to reposition NXP in two ways. One: he wants the company to exclusively operate in growth markets. And two: he wants to be the market leader in those markets by a large margin, or at the very least in significant sub-segments. In the cutthroat semiconductor industry, life is a lot easier when demand is a given and competitors can only follow at a respectable distance. And so Clemmer has been chipping off units left and right over the years. These weren’t at all bad businesses; they just didn’t fit the philosophy. This purposeful focus has served the company well in recent years, but it’s turning into a weakness now that the corona pandemic is disrupting markets.

the squeeze. “This crisis is unlike anything previously experienced by the semiconductor industry,” Clemmer told analysts during a teleconference discussing Q1 results. “We currently find ourselves attempting to make accurate projections of true OEM customer demand.” Short-term, Chinese car factories and their suppliers were the first to close and are now the first to resume normal operations. “It’s fair to have some optimism about the industrial automotive activity in Q2 in China,” said soon-to-be CEO Kurt Sievers on the same call. However, “It’s really, really hard to say how this is going to play out in Europe and the US,” he admitted. Longer-term, the economic consequences of the pandemic will likely impact car sales. Again, China inspires a little hope, as late-April car sales are above those in the same period last year. “We also hear reports

of people buying their first vehicle, as they don’t want to go back to mass transit with the fear overhanging from the virus,” said Sievers. These trends might emerge in other markets as well, though clearly a worldwide economic recession – which seems unavoidable – isn’t good for car sales.

No knee-jerk decisions

So far, NXP hasn’t announced any costcutting measures or layoffs. In fact, the Eindhoven chip maker is staying the course, for now. “We aren’t making knee-jerk decisions by taking an active review of all areas of discretionary spending, while simultaneously maintaining critical investments in areas that will assure NXP’s long-term success. Our business model is solid and we continue to have ample financial liquidity and strength to weather the current unpredictable environment,” Sievers commented.


NEWS CHIPS

Meanwhile, NXP sees SiGe surge for mobile WLAN and 5G While business in automotive is experiencing an unanticipated slowdown, NXP finds its RF front-ends in high demand. Nieke Roos

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Number one

In a mobile handset application, NXP’s front-end IC links the antenna to the WLAN system-on-chip. “It contains a low-

SiGe since this technology allows for making a broadband front-end that performs equally well across the entire range from 5-7 GHz. Customers can take a Wi-Fi chip and set it to 5 or 6 GHz, put our IC in front of it and it will work independently of the selected frequency. With a technology like GaAs, which is much more narrow banded, you need multiple power amplifiers – obviously, a much more expensive solution.” Without giving exact numbers, Hoeben can divulge that NXP is selling hundreds of millions of RF front-end ICs in the mobile space. “The big companies make 100 million handsets of each of their models, all having three of our chips inside. So one such customer alone represents 300 million units.” Credit: NXP

n the shadow of its disappointing Q1 results, NXP also released two positive notes. In April, the company made public a collaboration with Murata to deliver the industry’s first RF front-end modules designed with the latest Wi-Fi 6 standards. Followed in May by an announcement that these very modules have been designed into the Xiaomi Mi 10 5G smartphone. NXP’s RF front-end solutions are based on silicon-germanium (SiGe). This technology has the advantage over CMOS that it enables a higher output power at radio frequencies, at the same cost base. Compared to silicon-on-insulator, another alternative, it allows for a higher output power level, combined with better power efficiency. While NXP’s automotive activities are struggling as the corona pandemic forced car manufacturers and their suppliers to halt operations, its SiGe business is booming. The ICN8 fab in Nijmegen and the jointly owned SSMC factory in Singapore are producing silicon-germanium chips at full throttle. “Our customers are pulling them out of our hands,” says Rob Hoeben, Senior Director of Marketing for the product line Smart Antenna Solutions (SAS) within NXP’s business line Radio Power. SAS delivers integrated RF front-ends for mobile and wireless infrastructures. “We’re NXP’s Qubic center for product creations – Qubic being our SiGe process technology,” states Hoeben. “We’re focusing on mobile WLAN and 5G – both sub-6 GHz and mm-wave. There lies SiGe’s sweet spot: everything RF or mm-wave below 1 or 2 W output power.”

noise amplifier for the receive path, to minimize the noise and optimize the sensitivity in the rest of the chain,” explains Hoeben. “In the transmit path, it delivers that extra output power you can’t get with CMOS. We can put the ICs in a small discrete QFN housing, for use very close to the antenna, in a complete front-end module, or customers can buy them as chip-scale packages and integrate them with a third-party SOC into a system-in-package.” According to Hoeben, NXP is the world’s number one front-end supplier for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E. “Wi-Fi 6 connects more users and employs an upgraded modulation technique, which means a huge increase in data rate per user and better battery performance with the same data rate. 6E adds to that 1.2 GHz of extra spectrum at the top end of the 5 GHz band, ie from 6-7.2 GHz. That’s good news for Wi-Fi and perfect for

Deploying rapidly

In 5G, the first bands deployed are sub-6 GHz. These basically cover the same frequencies as 4G but with a better modulation technique, resulting in higher data rates. “With SiGe, we have a play in base stations for sub-6 GHz,” Hoeben points out. “Such base stations not only contain GaN or LDMOS power amplifiers, but also pre-drivers, LNAs and gain blocks – typical products made in SiGe, in Qubic. For mmwave – 26, 28 and 39 GHz – we’re developing beam-forming ICs, which are the frontends of those antennas.” Although the numbers aren’t comparable to the mobile space, 5G is an equally important target area for NXP’s SiGe efforts. “Sub-6 GHz is currently deploying very rapidly in China, and in Europe, it’s taking off as well,” Hoeben notes. “In North America, where sub-6 GHz spectrum is scarce, we’re seeing the first mm-wave deployments, with fixed wireless access in regions without cable or fiberglass as a first real commercial use case.” 3

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O

pinion

WIRELESS Cees Links is a Wi-Fi pioneer and the founder and CEO of Greenpeak Technologies and currently General Manager of Qorvo’s Wireless Connectivity business unit.

Optimizing for Wi-Fi 6

W

i-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, is the nextgeneration standard in Wi-Fi technology. What’s exciting about it is that it expands on 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) and 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) by improving data capacity, the number of connected user devices per node and throughput over the full RF range. Wi-Fi 6 offers theoretical speeds of up to 10 Gb/s. The new standard also implements orthogonal frequency division multiple access (OFDMA), which runs in full-duplex (up and downstream), multi-user, multiple-input-multipleoutput (MU-MIMO). It supports twelve streams, allowing each stream to service multiple devices. Under the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program, designs can be submitted for certification. This is driving both indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi 6 manufacturers to certify and deploy infrastructure with certified units. These manufacturers, then, need a vendor with both an indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi 6 portfolio covering front-end solutions plus filtering – preferably in the context of a large portfolio that also includes multi-protocol solutions focusing on Wi-Fi/IoT coexistence. To benefit from the improved capabilities, there’s also a need for devices with higher levels of linearity, interference mitigation and lower power consumption – all in a smaller form factor. Wi-Fi 6 manufacturers require the RF front-end devices to achieve these parameters in order to meet certification program demands. With the rise in data throughput (four times greater than Wi-Fi 5) and the larger number of users per node (four times the Wi-Fi 5 capacity), the RF design portion of a Wi-Fi

end-product has increased in complexity. Not only has the modulation scheme increased to 1024 QAM, quadrupling wireless speeds compared to Wi-Fi 5, but receiver sensitivity and power amplifier linearity have become more challenging. The increase in QAM means more challenging RF linearity requirements – as high as -47 dBm error vector magnitude (EVM) for some manufacturers. To address this, optimized RF front-end (RFFE) devices can be used having EVM margin to

The RF design portion of a Wi-Fi 6 end-product has increased in complexity ensure end-product certification. The increased sensitivity specifications mean a lower noise figure (NF) in the receive path is a must-have. With both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 standards demanding lower power consumption targets, the added challenge is to meet the above specs while keeping end-product power consumption at a minimum. Furthermore, new coexistence challenges in 2.4 and 5 GHz bands increase the need for specialized filtering. EVM and noise are key parameters to focus on in a Wi-Fi 6 product or application. EVM is a measure used to quantify the performance of a digital radio transmitter or receiver. Noise (including phase noise), distortion and spurious signals can degrade

EVM. Because real-world Wi-Fi applications are pulsed (the PA pulses on each time it transmits data, then pulses off to save power), design engineers should focus their attention on dynamic EVM values on product datasheets, as these values accurately reflect how a PA in a Wi-Fi system operates. Thus, choosing components with dynamic EVM levels measured in pulse modes are the best choice. Another recommendation is to choose a product that covers 2.4 and 5 GHz. These products include embedded filter solutions to address band edge and coexistence. The overall benefit of band edge filters is RF range and quality of service without interference from Bluetooth, microwave ovens, cellular phones and such. There are also products that address the emerging expansion of Wi-Fi 6 in the 6 GHz space (also called Wi-Fi 6E). Lastly, it’s important to note the trend to integrate Wi-Fi and IoT (ie Zigbee, Thread and BLE). The smart home space is seeing this merger into one package design or home network – bringing together the smart home, the internet, lighting control, voice activation control, home automation and security. Products that offer these two technologies in one solution, reducing customer complexity and design, represent an advantage in getting to market faster and with confidence. Wi-Fi 6 is up and running, offering distinct advantages over its predecessors. Designers who are savvy enough to optimize their application designs for Wi-Fi 6 will have the competitive edge by unlocking the full potential of this new standard.

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ANALYSIS SEMICON

ASML projects immunity amid the corona crisis The corona pandemic has prompted hiccups in the supply chain, as well as operational difficulties, but so far ASML has managed to keep things going. Customers keep ordering enthusiastically as well, so the company remains cautiously optimistic despite the uncertainty ahead. Paul van Gerven

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ooking at ASML’s stock price, you wouldn’t think a global pandemic is casting dark shadows over the world economy. After a brief nosedive mid-March, the company’s shares have recovered to pre-corona levels. Even dropping formal financial guidance for the remainder of the year didn’t scare off investors. All this is unusual because the semiconductor industry is historically the first to get hit whenever economic prospects sink. Reassuring words from CEO Peter Wennink probably helped. “We’re not planning for an Armageddon scenario, where the entire world economy crumbles into an abyss, we’re not planning that. I don’t think it’s got to happen,” Wennink said while discussing first-quarter results with financial analysts.

Double whammy

The fact that ASML has so far experienced no serious disruptions also inspires confidence. Travel restrictions and quarantine measures might wreak havoc on a company that relies on a multi-tiered supply chain that spans the entire globe, yet so far only a limited number of shipments have been delayed. Several of ASML’s suppliers have been forced to temporarily cease operations, but so far either an alternative supplier or a workaround was found. All in all, “I think we can say that the issues that did pop up around the closure have been resolved,” stated CFO Roger Dassen in a video message. In ASML’s own operations, there have been “inconveniences” and “inefficiencies” too, admitted Dassen. With proper safety measures in place, all of the company’s facilities are operational, but serving customers in the usual way is much more challenging. For sure, shipment installations and

field upgrades are affected when crossing borders is, at the very least, a hassle. But with a lot of creativity, resilience and dedication, ASML has been able to serve its customers satisfactorily, said Dassen, thanking his engineers for their dedication. “They go above and beyond what can be expected from them in these circumstances. You have to recognize that, for instance, an engineer traveling to a certain location,

upon arrival has to go into quarantine for a certain period – and sometimes upon return has to go into quarantine again. So, there’s a ‘double whammy’ in terms of quarantine there. Despite that, people are just completely dedicated to go,” said Dassen. Additionally, ASML has been experimenting with “virtual, augmented-reality-type” technologies to support local teams.

Crash and burn

Investors also know that the semiconductor industry is constantly chasing a moving target and won’t easily step on the brakes. To keep going they need ASML’s EUV technology – badly “Leading-edge customers have told us that they see an unabated demand for leading-edge devices at least throughout this year. Keep in mind the lead time and the qualification of lithography systems are the longest in the fab and customers won’t want to jeopardize any adjustment to their technology and capacity ramps that will negatively affect their ability to keep serving their leadingedge customers,” Wennink explained. Recent mutations in ASML’s order book reflect this. Q1 bookings came in at 3.1 billion dollars, a sequential increase of 28 percent. About half of that amount was for EUV machines, filling up slots for ASML’s planned EUV production capacity of 4550 units next year (versus 35 this year). Some customers are getting so nervous about having their EUV tools delayed that they’re now asking to have them shipped before normal factory acceptance tests have been completed. Clearly, the only company in the world capable of delivering technology of such a highly strategic nature isn’t going to crash and burn. 3 13


NEWS QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY

Qblox readies its modular controller for a variety of quantum computers Though recently developed prototypes still consist of 50 qubits maximum, Delft startup Qblox is paving the way for building quantum computers with up to a 1,000 qubits and beyond. Antoinette Brugman

Q

1 and 0 at the same time – so-called superposition. Moreover, qubits can be entangled. This means that two or more of them are correlated and an operation on one can instantaneously affect the other(s), regardless of the distance between them. At the moment, quantum computers require rather large setups. The qubits are positioned on a chip that’s placed in a cryostat that cools down to a temperature of

about 10 mK – near absolute zero. Such a low temperature is essential to avoid noise in the system caused by heat, for this would result in the qubits losing their information. The cooling part of the installation already takes up a lot of physical space. However, the system that controls and reads out the qubits – an important part of the quantum computer – currently requires quite some room as well. As research in the

Credit: Qblox

uantum computing is a promising technology that is on its way to create a new generation of powerful supercomputers. In the near future, these look to take on complex problems that no classical computer could ever solve. To achieve this, a quantum computer uses quantum mechanical phenomena and calculation units called qubits. Instead of ‘normal’ computer bits that can be either 1 or 0, a qubit can be

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Credit: Qblox

domain of quantum computers is still in an experimental phase, this part of the installation is usually built using existing electronics. These systems are bulky, not specifically equipped for their task in a quantum computer setup and have scalability issues.

Saving space

Qblox saw a chance there. The spinoff of the Delft-based quantum technology institute Qutech has set out to create a new system to control the qubits in a quantum computer. Though recently built prototype quantum computers can only handle about 50 qubits, the startup – anticipating future developments – is aiming to do up to a thousand. “We’re developing a modular system that enables our customers to scale up their system by simply adding additional control modules,” explains Qblox cofounder and CEO Niels Bultink. “The module we’re building can control 20 qubits and has dimensions similar to two Monopoly boxes stacked on top of each other. Former systems, using existing electronics, needed a tower of at least two meters high to control the same 20 qubits. If we fill this tower with our modules, we can drive at least 200 qubits.” The compactness of the system is partly the result of the collaboration with Qutech. Bultink: “In our design, we use technology that follows prior and ongoing developments there. For example, we’ve integrated the functionality of the Qutech waveform generator. This QWG uses an advanced way to produce the waves that are necessary to feed the qubits. It can do so with a very short time delay of several tens of nanoseconds, allowing for the time between a measurement and the subsequent operation to be short compared to the timescale at which qubits can contain their information.” The short time delay is a necessary condition for the quantum computer to be able to restore errors in the system after they’ve been identified, Bultink clarifies. “This avenue, called quantum error correction, is very important as qubits are faulty by nature and an error in a single qubit can screw up the whole calculation. The ability to correct for faulty behavior becomes increasingly important when scaling up. For example, if the probability of an error in one qubit is 10 percent, the probability of

In 2018, Qblox cofounders Jules van Oven (left) and Niels Bultink (right) set out to create a new system to control the qubits in a quantum computer.

an error occurring in a system of three qubits is already increased to 27 percent. For 30 qubits, it even rises to 96 percent.” By integrating several functions in one device, Qblox has also hugely reduced the amount of cabling. “This again saves space,” says Bultink, “and it diminishes connectivity issues – one of the biggest headaches of quantum computer researchers.” Decreasing the physical space isn’t the only challenge to overcome in developing a new control stack. To make the system mod-

ular, the separate control modules need to work together. This means that they have to be synchronized to send their signals simultaneously. Bultink: “Because the system functions at the nanosecond scale, this is technologically rather difficult. Another challenge is to enable sharing of information between multiple modules – an essential feature for facilitating feedback in the system. The signal measured by module 1 could be an important input for module 18, a few tens of nanoseconds later.” 3 15


Credit: Qblox

NEWS QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY

Generally applicable

The Qblox system is designed to be compatible with the many different types of quantum computers that are being built now. Some use qubits made up of superconducting structures, others use silicon or diamond platforms. The operational frequency range of the control stack has to be compatible with all of these. Also, the timescale for feeding the qubits can vary for different types of quantum computers, from nanoseconds to milliseconds. “We design our devices in such a way that they can be used for most types,” Bultink points out. “This has some consequences under the hood, but in the end, our system is generally applicable by most

customers involved in developing quantum computers.” The modular control stack proves that Qblox is able to make sophisticated, scalable controllers for the quantum computing industry. The fast-growing company – which started in 2018 with a team of just two and is expected to employ more than 12 people at the end of this year – is eager to continuously improve its products. Bultink concludes: “We want to integrate even more functionality in our devices to make them more versatile, compact and cost efficient. This way, we can provide researchers with a product that enables them to easily scale up their quantum computers and be ready for the future.”

The modular Qblox system enables customers to scale up their system by simply adding additional control modules.

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Our (opto-)mechatronic systems and mechanical modules contribute to future technologies


NEWS QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY

Qutech may have solved the quantum computer’s nasty cable problem Cables are getting in the way of building more powerful quantum computers. By creating qubits that work above absolute zero, Qutech and Intel raise hopes of integrating quantum hardware and their classic control electronics. Paul van Gerven

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utech has managed to control qubits in silicon at temperatures over 1 kelvin. Normally, the information stored in qubits is quickly lost when they warm up to temperatures slightly above absolute zero. The achievement opens up the possibility to integrate qubits and their control electronics into a single chip – a quantum integrated circuit. In current quantum computers, qubits are connected with cables to control electronics outside the cryogenic vessel. This is no longer feasible when working with millions of qubits – the number needed to build a quantum computer that’s capable of the magic everyone is rooting for. “The current status of quantum technology is comparable to that of classical technology in the 1950s. At that time, every component had to be soldered together, which became impracticable for ever-larger electrical circuits,” explains Qutech principal researcher Menno Veldhorst. The solution, of course, proved to be the integration of electronic components, along with planar process technology. Packing qubits and control electronics together on a single substrate would similarly solve the quantum computer’s ‘cable problem’.

Much more practical

The caveat is that the qubits and control electronics will have to operate at the same temperature, and conventional electronics doesn’t like the cold. Fortunately, Qutech and Intel already developed a chip that can control qubits at low temperatures. Nonetheless, the qubits will have to leave their comfort zone as well. “That’s exactly what we’ve achieved at Qutech in collaboration with Intel. This is

The (unfinished) road to a quantum integrated circuit.

the first time that we’ve been able to control qubits in silicon at a higher temperature, and above one kelvin. The increase in temperature may seem like a small step, but it’s a huge leap when it comes to the available cooling capacity. Furthermore, at these temperatures, the qubits no longer have to work in a vacuum but can be immersed in a liquid, which makes everything much more practical,” says Luca Petit, first author of the study published in Nature.

Big step

What’s more, the researchers used the same silicon that the semiconductor industry uses, and they processed it with the same standard production technology. This wasn’t trivial, explains second author Gertjan Eenink. “In order to work at a higher temperature, we had to make improvements at all stages of the experiment. We’ve

created silicon qubits that can be isolated from unwanted interactions.” Petit adds: “Performing quantum calculations at 1.1 kelvin depended on us reducing all possible sources of noise and developing measurement procedures that are temperature resistant. It was a fantastic moment when everything came together and we were able to perform quantum operations with two silicon qubits at this temperature for the first time.” The next step will be to actually integrate quantum hardware and classic control electronics onto a single chip. “In 2015, we demonstrated two verifiable qubits in silicon for the first time. Now, in 2020, we’ve achieved the same feat at practical temperatures. In another five years from now, we might already have quantum integrated circuits. That would be a really big step towards the future quantum computer.” 3 17


For the industry by experts in the industry Development Manager Stefan Vossen of Hittech Multin highlights: “It’s important for us to find trainings that are taught by people with deep roots and experience in the high-tech domain. That’s really why we turned to High Tech Institute. Their trainings are designed for the industry by experts in the industry.” Hittech Multin specializes in the development and production of mechatronic products for the medical, semiconductor, measurement and analytical industries.

hittech.com hightechinstitute.nl/electronics


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pinion

THE HEADHUNTER Anton van Rossum anton.van.rossum@ir-search.nl

Ask the headhunter T.C. asks: After a career in research and development, I’ve been working as a business development manager at a large technology group for over ten years now. In my position, I’m co-responsible for the strategy and future of the company and I work with industrial partners on confidential advanced technology projects. As such, I report directly to the CEO. It’s an exciting job, but I’m gradually ready for a “change of scenery” – something new, although I’m not actively looking around. Recently, I came across an interesting management vacancy at a chip company in wireless technology and I took the liberty to apply. The position has everything I’m looking for and for which I’m qualified: management, microelectronics and business in the IoT domain. Because it’s in the same field I’ve been in for years, this is very interesting to me. After a few weeks, I received a short rejection e-mail, completely unmotivated. This came as a big surprise to me as it should be clear to them that I’m a top candidate for the job. I contacted someone from HR, but that brought me nothing. According to him, my CV wasn’t specific enough and it lacked sufficient leads. I then explained to him that I can’t be expected to include a more detailed de-

scription as this would reveal all my company’s strategic activities. I remain interested in the position, however, and am not ready to give up. After all, the vacancy is still on the company’s website. Please advise.

The headhunter answers: Reading your résumé, I notice very few links to the function advertised. Fifteen years ago, you worked in the same industry the company is operating in, but after that, I don’t see anything relevant anymore. It does strike me that you’ve described your last job – which you’ve had for ten years according to your CV – in just four lines. That’s not much seeing as it’s the most relevant period in your employment history! This becomes even more striking compared to the many pages you spend describing your prior job. I get that you’re reluctant to reveal your company’s secrets, but you’ve been working there for ten years and you should certainly be able to give more information about past projects and results. If you ever want to change jobs, you’ll have to provide insight into your responsibilities and results. If you don’t, no one will invite you for an interview. You really should give more information – without becoming indiscreet of course. How else do you think you’re going to get to the

table? You need to make clear in your CV that you fit the profile. Only addressing this in the motivation letter isn’t enough. When you have the ten years of people and business management experience required by the job, your résumé should mention this. This also applies to your familiarity with certain technologies. Take the job requirements seriously. After all, many applicants

Take the job requirements seriously don’t fit the profile at all. You need to put some effort in to get on the “yes” stack. With this vacancy, I doubt whether you still stand a chance since you’ve already been rejected. But it would be very clumsy, to say the least, if you ruined your chances by not bothering to submit a serious résumé.

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NEWS PHOTONICS

A corona test for the masses Dutch companies Lionix, Qurin and Surfix, along with public-private partnership Photondelta, have set out to unlock the potential of integrated photonics for corona testing. Their ultimate goal: a fast, reliable, yet inexpensive corona test. Paul van Gerven

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t’s considered the holy grail of medical diagnostics: point-of-care testing. A sample taken from the patient is tested on the spot, next to the hospital bed, in the general practitioner’s office or even at home, and within minutes the result is in. It’s convenient, in some cases life saving, and there’s no time-consuming and expensive lab work involved. Imagine what the availability of such a quick and reliable test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (colloquially known as the coronavirus) would mean in the fight against the current pandemic. Developing such a test is exactly what three Dutch companies, co-financed and supported by public-private organization Photondelta (see sidebar “Photondelta’s growth strategy”), have set out to do. Combining Lionix International’s integrated photonics technology with Surfix’s nanocoatings and Qurin Diagnostics’ biomedical expertise, they aim to have SARSCoV-2 testing devices in doctors’ offices by the end of next year. The ultimate goal, however, is to make a test for the masses: a widely available, disposable test that only costs a few euros.

Top-notch

Before teaming up on corona, the companies were already working closely together: Lionix and Qurin last year acquired Surfix to accelerate their efforts to develop a photonic biochip for early cancer detection. The corona test will be based on the same underlying principle. In fact, this principle can be used to detect many different entities: 20

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not just viruses, but also DNA and RNA, proteins and other (bio)molecules. The partners fully intent to exploit that feature by developing not one, but two corona tests: one that tells if you have the disease and another that indicates whether you’ve had it.

Photondelta’s growth strategy

In broad strokes, the biochip works on the basis that the characteristics of light are altered when it passes through a waveguide that’s coated with ‘hooks’ for whatever is being tested for. If a sample solution is brought into contact with the waveguide

Photondelta was started in January 2019 to boost the emerging Dutch integrated-photonics industry. Its mission: to drive growth in terms of turnover (over 1 billion euros), resources (over 4,000 FTE) and number of participating companies (more than 25) by 2026. These goals are already very challenging considering the relatively limited time frame and resources, but on top of that, Photondelta has to operate in a double-trouble environment: an emerging new technology with (long-term) potential in likewise new emerging applications and markets. To face this complexity, Photondelta identified four key target markets: Medical Devices and Life Sciences, Datacom and Telecom, Infrastructure and Transportation, and Agriculture and Food. First, the organization performed a thorough analysis of relevant key trends, drivers and unmet needs by meeting with key prospective customers on a global level. Their unmet needs were then matched with the cluster’s current and future product and technological capabilities. This resulted, at the end of last year, in the identification and prioritization, based on growth potential, of a limited number of key areas where Photondelta has the potential to further build and expand its portfolio of promising and differentiating solutions and where to focus on to effectively and efficiently target growth. One of these focal areas covers optical biosensing components and modules/subsystems for low-cost, accurate and fast detection of biomarkers in point-of-care diagnostics, an example of which is discussed in this article. Earlier this year, dedicated focal area teams, staffed with business and technology experts from companies and knowledge institutes or purposely hired (such as Maarten Buijs, interviewed here), have been set up and chartered to further sharpen relevant propositions and business/technology roadmaps, in an open collaboration with global leading customers and end-users. These insights will drive further expansion of the portfolio offering, acquisition of new customers and cluster partners, as well as guide further Photondelta investments.


Credit: Surfix

Artist impression of the biochip in development. Receptors (Y-shaped, in yellow) are attached to a coated waveguide (in cyan) while holding on to virus particles (purple spheres). The rest of the surface is coated with biomolecule repellent nanocoating (in blue).

and contains a species that attaches itself to the hooks, this will be detected through the change in properties of the light that’s being led through the waveguide. For diagnosing COVID-19, the disease associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, the hooks are receptors for the virus particle. Thus, the presence of the virus is detected directly, as opposed to the current standard testing method, which entails destroying the virus’s shell and looking for the presence of released genetic material. Since this requires quite time-consuming processing, people currently have to wait a day or so to get their test results back. Direct detection of the virus, however, does away with a lot of the processing and is inherently much quicker – perhaps as quickly as a few minutes. The same principle can just as easily be applied to look for antibodies, ie proteins produced by the immune system that are the tell-tale sign of whether or not someone has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the past – perhaps without realizing it. This is ‘simply’ a matter of placing antibody receptors on the waveguide, instead of the virus receptors.

Importantly, the biochip is extremely sensitive, meaning the test results will be reliable. “I don’t know of any label-free direct-detection methods that obtain a higher sensitivity,” says cofounder and CTO René Heideman of Lionix. Label-free means without chemically attaching ‘beacons’ to the virus or other species being tested for – a procedure that adds complexity and costs. “There are comparable optical options, but because these aren’t based on integrated photonics technology, they will not develop into a compact, low-cost solution any time soon.” In other words, the partners are doing two things in parallel: developing tests that both yield top-notch results and will be low cost.

Revolution

Achieving such a feat in such a short time requires the underlying technology to be at an advanced stage already. For its part, Lionix has been developing integrated photonics since 2002. Initially targeting the telecom market, the Enschede-based company broadened its scope with biosensing and metrology applications along the way.

Surfix has been perfecting its nanocoatings for life science applications ever since it was spun off from Wageningen University & Research in 2011. For the past two years, the photonics biochip has been its main focus, along with microfluidics, which will also be part of the test devices. “This pandemic is a terrible thing, of course, but there’s beauty in the fact that – thanks to years of hard work and investment – all the necessary elements are ready to be put together to make a difference in managing the spread of the disease,” says Surfix CTO Luc Scheres. Heideman chimes in: “We’re going to see a lot of claims of revolutionary new sensor technologies that will fight COVID-19. Most of them will be baseless. Our partnership stands out because we’ve been working on these technologies for many years already. It’s very mature.” “The Netherlands has played a pioneering role in integrated photonics,” Heideman continues. “The rest of the world is catching up, but we recently moved up a gear by establishing Photondelta. This organization fosters collaboration among relevant local companies, thus creating a well-oiled eco3 21


NEWS PHOTONICS

system that spans the entire value chain. This, too, allows us to accelerate our current efforts to develop our biochip.” “This is exactly the kind of initiative we set out to bolster,” confirms Photondelta’s Maarten Buijs, who’s currently developing a roadmap for biosensors based on integrated photonics (again, see sidebar “Photondelta’s growth strategy”). “It’s work in progress, but we see a lot of potential for mass-producible integrated photonic sensors in a wide range of point-of-care applications where biomolecules and bioparticles need to be detected. This endeavor of Lionix, Surfix and Qurin might very well start that revolution.”

Cheap

Let’s have a look at what the partners bring to the table exactly. Diving a little deeper

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into the inner workings of the sensor, the light passing through the waveguide isn’t completely confined by it. Part of it ‘sticks out’ – the so-called “evanescent field” – allowing it to interact with Surfix’s nanocoating that’s loaded with receptors (the ‘hooks’) provided by Qurin. Receptors holding on to ‘guests’ cause the refractive index to change, which induces a phase change in the light. This phase change, through a number of manipulations, can be detected as an intensity differential. Surfix’s main challenge was to ensure that the receptors are attached to the waveguides exclusively. “All common coating methods would coat the entire chip, so the analyte would attach itself anywhere on the chip’s surface. The waveguides take up only 1 percent of that. We can’t detect anything that isn’t attached to the waveguide

and because we’re working with such small amounts, we simply can’t afford to leave most of it undetected,” Scheres explains. The company, headquartered in Wageningen, therefore developed a protocol that applies two coatings: one for the waveguides to attach the receptors and another one for the rest of the chip’s surface. Scheres: “The latter, in fact, repels biomolecules, basically making sure nothing sticks to it. This increases the signal-to-noise ratio. Depending on several factors, our coating protocol lowers the detection limit by a factor of 10-100. This makes all the difference.” When it comes to sensitivity and detection limits, Lionix’s most important job is to maximize the interaction of the light with the receptor-guest complexes. As it turns out, the specific integrated photonics ‘recipe’ the company has employed for al-

28-02-20 11:18


Credit: Lionix

Photograph of a series of fully assembled optical sensor chips, including a low-cost light source and detector array, mounted on PCBs, ready for implementation.

most two decades, is ideally suited for that job. Heideman: “Our silicon nitride-based Triplex platform features very low light losses. This means we can make relatively long waveguides. In addition, we can feed multiple waveguides with a single light source, allowing for multiple sensors on a single chip. And, finally, we have a very efficient evanescent field: about a quarter of the light sticks out. All these elements contribute to better signal generation.” Another very helpful feature of Triplex is its compatibility with a wide range of wavelengths. Lionix chose an 850 nm light source because these are widely available and cheap (they’re also used in the com-

puter mouse), but also because sensitivity at this wavelength is higher by a factor of three to four, compared to employing the 1550 nm light most commonly used in integrated photonics. At 850 nm, the required detectors are low cost as well.

A lot to gain

Backed by investments from Lionix and Qurin and a commercial loan from Photondelta, the partners have given themselves six months to demonstrate to the world that their sensor is the real deal. In parallel, they will start putting together a large-scale production process and find additional investors to finance setting that up. If all goes

well, a desktop testing device – which isn’t as cost sensitive – should be available in 18 months. The introduction of the disposable will take another year or so. But with vaccines and treatments in development, wouldn’t the tests be a little late to the party? Heideman and Scheres aren’t worried about that at all. “Even if it comes to that, our technology can be used for a wide range of applications, even outside the medical domain. If there’s anything positive about this pandemic, it’s that it showed the world that there’s still a lot to gain in point-of-care testing. Our partnership will gladly work to make that progress happen,” says Scheres. 3 23


NEWS MICROFLUIDICS

Demand for Dutch diagnostic SMEs curves with corona With the increasing market demand, the corona crisis caused Micronit to ramp up production. This was challenging, because of the disrupted supply chain. However, Micronit CEO Ronny van ’t Oever also sees the opportunities this crisis offers for innovative Dutch medical SMEs like his. Jessica Vermeer

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World player

Founded in 1999, Micronit originally focused on the miniaturization of devices 24

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Ronny van ’t Oever sees a tremendous innovation potential in the Netherlands.

velopments in his company proceeding in a business-as-usual fashion. “Our plans for a new building at Kennispark Twente are still on track. And despite a lot of our employees working from home, business processes are continuing surprisingly well.” Looking to capitalize on and continue with this positive momentum, Micronit is setting some lofty goals. “We want to become a world player in DNA-related in-vitro diagnostics. By building multiple functionalities onto a chip, testing is simplified,” highlights Van ’t Oever. “To really succeed, our aim is to simplify these laboratory tests so they can be performed by personnel with lower levels of education.”

Innovation potential

Credit: Micronit

ne of the early goals in fighting a disease like COVID-19 is to map the virus and its family. This can be done by determining its specific DNA sequence. “If you know the DNA, or in this case, RNA sequence, you can effectively develop the necessary PCR reagents,” explains CEO Ronny van ’t Oever. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a method used in molecular biology to make billions of copies of a DNA sample, which are then used to identify infectious agents. Enschede-based Micronit is the producer of chips that allow specialists to determine the DNA or RNA sequence of viruses. Sparked by the spread of the corona pandemic, the company’s products have seen an enormous increase in demand. “Within a few weeks, our entire safety stock ran out,” depicts van ’t Oever. Seeing his team’s response, however, gave him a great sense of pride as an entrepreneur. “At times like these, my team shows an admirable passion and drive.” The rising demand is especially difficult to meet as supply chains become threatened or disrupted. Van ’t Oever explains, “Our second supplier dropped out completely in the face of a demand that had doubled. So, that was a sizeable obstacle we had to overcome. We needed all hands on deck.” As many Asian factories closed, it was evident that simply obtaining products from the supply line was a serious challenge. “Fortunately, it’s been manageable so far. But it has really exposed our dependence on international factories.”

using microtechnology. Over the years, however, the business shifted its focus to microfluidics for application in life sciences. These days, its product development department is working on new applications like lab-on-a-chip, which is designed for quick testing and can produce lab-quality results within an hour, and BioMEMS. Although the corona crisis has driven the increase in interest of these kinds of technologies, Van ’t Oever sees most of the de-

The corona crisis is bringing attention to the importance and necessity of this sector in the Netherlands, notes Van ’t Oever. “There’s a tremendous innovation potential within the companies operating in our field, especially within SMEs.” One example he gives: organ-on-a-chip applications, which can be used for quicker medicine tests. “Vycap, for instance, is focusing on isolating cells, while Biosparq is working to optimize treatment of bacterial co-infections. Suddenly, the innovations of these relatively small companies have priority.” Even though getting the right materials has priority, for now, Van ’t Oever thinks there’s huge potential for the future within the Netherlands. The sharp awareness also brings great opportunity. “Suddenly, companies and research facilities may actually get to finish certain innovative products. This could allow us to build the value chain closer to home and decrease the dependence on international suppliers.”


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INNOVATION Anton Duisterwinkel is business developer HTSM at Innovationquarter.

Corona crisis: chance for change

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n a busy road, one driver hits the brakes. The car behind brakes harder. The third car comes to a full stop. And the fourth crashes into the third, badly damaging both cars. This is how a chain collision often starts. This happens not only on the road but also in economies. Scared consumers hit the brakes, buying much less than they used to do. End-product makers stop buying machines and instruments. Machine and instrument manufacturers come to a complete standstill. And their suppliers go bankrupt. We need to recognize that this is happening right now and move quickly to prevent the biggest industrial crash ever. Never in history did consumers hit the brakes as hard as today. Consumer confidence plummeted in an unprecedented fashion. Even companies that at the moment see little change will be hit in a few months. The Dutch government has rapidly built a first-aid kit for businesses that were immediately hit by the corona crisis. However, the Dutch manufacturing industry will soon require intensive care, as it consists mainly of machine and instrument suppliers (OEMs) and their suppliers, first and second tier. At the same time, we notice a sudden awareness of the importance of the manufacturing industry as a supplier of (corona)tests, face masks, breathing kits and other vital stuff. Both people and politicians are now aware of our dependency on faraway regimes that either cannot or do not want to deliver products. And they’re becoming aware of the fact that complex value chains shut down when one tiny part can’t be delivered.

We were already starting to become aware of the dangers associated with growing protectionism and foreign takeovers of our innovative companies, but the corona crisis has opened our eyes all the way. Therefore, we need to work right now on our European production chains. Making them shorter and more effective. Creating flexibility

We need production sovereignty to manufacture whatever vital stuff is needed in any crisis. And making production chains more circular and therefore less susceptible to geopolitics on the fly. We need production sovereignty: the ability to quickly and affordably produce critical goods. The best way to do so is to set up a digital, flexible and resilient production network, a virtual smart factory. Ideally, it will operate regionally, so that parts don’t have to cross borders. For individual companies, this may not seem attractive: typically, entrepreneurs will want to sell and source worldwide. We shouldn’t hinder them in doing so. However, I’ve already spoken to entrepreneurs who have changed their sourcing strategy, ensuring that they buy at least 20 percent of each item within Europe. That could be a good policy for governments, non-governmental agencies and even manufacturing companies. Let’s start building our smart production network now. We can map and redraw production chains and

share our intel on good regional suppliers. We can start a virtual smart factory by building and using (European!) data platforms. We can adopt and stimulate the use of flexible manufacturing technology such as 3D printing and smart robots. And we can persevere in innovating products and production technology. Governments can contribute by stopping the import of unsafe products by enforcing EU standards. And by smart and fast licensing of flexible production sites, as well as by rapidly implementing 5G networks and acting as launching customer for breakthrough technologies. Governments can also increase access to training 21st-century skills. And finally, they can set up well-targeted financing of innovations needed for the virtual smart factory and new, circular, value chains.

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ONE-AND-A-HALF BETTER CHALLENGE The COVID-19 virus has a big influence on people’s lives. Some say we should go ‘back to normal’. But this crisis could also be the start of a new, better world, beginning with the development and design of new ideas. The Discovery Factory, together with Philips, challenges children and youngsters to create inventions for the so-called “one-and-a-half-meter society.” For example, they can design solutions to improve contact with their grandparents in the new reality of social distancing.

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One-and-a-half better This new challenge tries to help the world with better ideas. Chris Voets of the Discovery Factory says: “We can benefit from the fresh views from children in adapting the lessons of the coronavirus to the world as a whole. But this project also aims at involving children and parents to the new corona rules.” Philips’ Frank Visser adds: “You can’t get past technology in our society. It’s everywhere! Philips sees an important role for tech companies inspiring youngsters for a future in technology. With this new project, we want to support children to face the challenge at home, together with their parents. With the help of our experts, we encourage them to invent creative solutions that could play an important role in these particular circumstances.”

Statue for the best inventors The challenge itself also is corona proof; together with their parents, children can work out their ideas and submit them on the project website anderhalfbeter.nl. The best inventions will be rewarded with a 3D-printed statue of the inventors themselves. It’s important that young inventors get this appreciation and it certainly helps the image of the tech industry so that youngsters will apply for tech studies, also in this new future world.

The Discovery Factory is there to inspire youngsters for a future in design and technology. Projects are supported by tech companies such as ASML, Brainport Industries, Daf Trucks, Frencken Europe, Hager, NTS Group, Philips, Stam en De Koning and VDL Group, and by Bits&Chips as the media partner.

discoveryfactory.nl


THEME CAREER AND LEADERSHIP

SOFTWARE ENGINEER TURNED BUSINESS MANAGER After having worked as a software engineer for several years, Arnold Schutter picked up the role of business manager at Alten. His workweek reveals a diversity of activities, such as business development, people management and technology. Arnold Schutter

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onday

After checking my mailbox, my workweek traditionally starts with a team meeting of our unit. During this meeting, we discuss all activities of the past and coming week. We go through client appointments, the status of current projects but also the candidates who’ll be interviewed later this week. We discuss the outstanding requests from our clients and how we can offer the best solution. This meeting takes up the entire Monday morning. I take my lunch at the office, after which I leave to meet a department manager at my client TNO. This department is working on a setup to test the effects of ammunition on vehicles and materials. During this meeting, we try to find the overlap in our expertise. With my background both in the army and as a software engineer, I understand the customer’s challenge and we can exchange interesting ideas about how we can support each other. After this interview at TNO, I return to our office, where I have a coaching interview with one of the consultants from my team. The project she’s working on is going well, but she notices that she has too little experience with Qt. After discussing the option of a training course, we decide that it’s best to link her to a more experienced software engineer for coaching. Because we have more than 28

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500 software consultants at Alten in the Netherlands, there’s always somebody with the required expertise.

Tuesday

Today, I’m going to Shell for a qualification interview with a consultant from my team. This qualification interview is a ‘job interview’ for the role of a scientific software engineer on one of the projects at the customer. The consultant from my team holds a master’s degree in physics from Delft University of Technology and has recently completed our Software Engineering Masterclass. During an intensive program of three months, his software engineering skills have developed to a good level. The project manager at Shell conducts the interview and I’m mainly listening. After the conversation, we drive to the office together and do a debriefing. Later in the week, I hear my consultant can start on the new project in a month. After answering several phone calls and emails, I leave for an introductory meeting with a potential new client, a robot builder. I came in touch with this company during a college fair. They build robots for entire process chains (from supply to handling and packing). The purpose of my visit is to explore the possibilities for collaboration. I have a conversation with the project leader and we exchange experiences to explore each other’s competencies. To get a good impression

of their challenges, I’m also taken on a tour of the factory. Impressive to see how the entire chain of robots is assembled and tested, in no less than 1,000 movements. We notice a lot of overlap in our skills and we agree to stay in touch so we can easily provide support when needed.

Wednesday

Today, I’m mainly working at the office. First, I visit our Delivery Center, where we work on various projects. I talk to the project leader about one of our machine learning projects, in which we train an algorithm that can recognize weeds. Next, I have a progress meeting with a consultant from my team, who’s working on this algorithm. We discuss the progress of the project and the technical challenges. Subsequently, I have an interview with an applicant. In this interview, I need to form an opinion about her skills and suitability for Alten. With a software test and discussion, I first get a good idea of her technical skills. During the rest of the interview, I investigate whether she could be a good consultant. She turns out to be a suitable candidate and shortly after, I make her an offer. In the afternoon, I visit a customer active in product automation. This company faces several challenges in its software development processes. I have a detailed conversation with the manager about his issues. We


Arnold Schutter

Arnold Schutter studied computer science at Delft University of Technology and graduated in a project at Alten, where he subsequently started his career as a software engineer. After having worked for several years on various software projects, he felt the need to be in touch more extensively with high­tech compa­ nies. Therefore, after following a traineeship at Alten, he picked up the role of business manager in 2018. discuss ways he could deal with them and I suggest he talks with one of our engineers experienced in software processes. In addition to coaching, we discuss ideas for improvement.

Thursday

This morning, I visit a company that develops a very innovative way of transport. It’s a first meeting in which I also get to see the factory hall, where the prototype is being assembled. It’s nice to be at the crad­ le of the latest developments. For the next phase of the project, they could use our specific expertise and I’m looking forward to a collabora­ tion. At the end of the morning, I leave for our office through the beau­ tiful countryside. In the afternoon, I visit one of my clients, where we are working on the control of a very advanced heavy­ lift crane that’s custom­built for one ship. We discuss the progress of the project and find out that they could benefit from user experience (UX) knowledge to improve their front­ end design and development. He asks me if I have a solution and we discuss some details. While return­ ing to the office, I immediately start thinking who would be able to help out with this problem – knowledge of specific tools and software are required. After consulting some col­ leagues, I think I have a nice solution and send my proposal to the client.

I’m staying at the office tonight to attend an event. Together with about 25 colleagues, we have a dinner buf­ fet, followed by a presentation of two consultants about front­end devel­ opment and utilizing micro­services. After a very interesting presentation, we end the evening with a drink.

Friday

Together with the Royal Nether­ lands Aerospace Centre (NLR), we’re organizing a symposium on the use of the cloud and the related secu­ rity aspects. We came up with this idea during an earlier meeting. This morning, together with my collea­ gue Nicolle, I go to NLR to discuss the details. Part of the symposium are presentations and a panel discus­ sion. We, together with the Dutch Air Force and Fox­IT, compose a pro­ gram to dive deeper into the safety and risks of the cloud. The afternoon I spend on admin­ istrative tasks, answering emails and various phone calls. We tradition­ ally end the week with a drink and this time, we do that a bit more ex­ tensively, with a French­fries table. We decide to go out with some col­ leagues in the center of Rotterdam. Just before we leave, I get a call from the candidate I spoke to on Wednes­ day – she’s accepting the offer. An­ other reason to celebrate. Edited by Nieke Roos

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THEME CAREER AND LEADERSHIP

A research environment enables the exploration of many new technologies, including digital twins.

WORKING IN IOT – SMART, CONNECTED SYSTEMS, A TESTIMONY At Flanders Make in Lommel, Kortrijk, Sint-Truiden and Leuven, researchers are developing new technologies and applications for intelligent robots, autonomous vehicles, interconnected machines and human-centered production sites. The aim is to keep local manufacturing companies on top of their market. Application engineer Jori Winderickx talks about his research. Jori Winderickx

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he Flemish research center Flanders Make is nearly bursting at the seams. We’re currently in the process of building a third cocreation facility, focused on Industry 4.0 production. In Kortrijk, engineers and researchers will get to work with new technologies to help companies navigate to the fourth industrial revolution. Our main challenge is to build cooperation between devices and work cells to enable better decision-making.

Smart connected systems

Autonomous vehicles can only see that which is in their own environ30

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ment, things that are within their ‘line of sight’. For instance, a pedestrian crossing the street around the corner is only visible once the car turns and is in close proximity. I’m currently working on connecting auxiliary data resources to the vehicle. Other passing vehicles or static cameras could issue warnings, but the autonomous car must first be able to understand these. However, if every surrounding sensor starts sounding alarms that something has been detected, it will overload the network and the messages will not come across in time. To resolve this, I’m working on communication protocols and performing

research in wireless infrastructure. You must first examine how the connections will be made. Then, you start testing the characteristics of the wireless communication protocols to get an idea of how you could use them in the best way possible. Often, you discover in the test setup a number of new aspects to consider. For instance, which access points should we provide and what if they’re out of range? There will always be issues, like differences in network configurations – that’s research for you. In a connected production environment, the algorithms can run in the cloud. The advantage is that we can


optimize the production process. We read out sensors and see how it all runs. With algorithms, we can imme­ diately address errors and obstacles in the process. You also want to be able to make predictions. In one of our research projects, for example, we use the strength and frequency of vibrations to predict when a bearing will fail. These same principles also apply to autonomous vehicles. The vehicle predicts the level of risk of the environment on its route, and can then immediately adjust its behavior.

Industrial IoT

Technology can only really emerge when it has been validated in an industrial setting.

Technology can only really emerge when it has been validated in an in­ dustrial setting. You hear all kinds of promises and predictions on what the IoT can do for the industrial world, but companies are facing a problem: how can they figure this out for their environment? What does the indus­ trial IoT (IIoT) mean for their design and their assembly process? We’re currently developing the IIoT cloud infrastructure for Flan­ ders Make. My fellow researchers fo­ cus on intelligent algorithms, as the models must continuously be tested. In the test phase, devices talk to the cloud. To do so, their set of com­ ponents (storage, Matlab/Python environment, AI algorithms and so on) must first be configured in the cloud. If we don’t have one overall infrastructure, every project would require a private cloud where each developer would use what they know

Jori Winderickx

Jori Winderickx is an application engineer working at the Flanders Make site in Lommel since January 2020. He focuses on infrastructure for the indus­ trial IoT. He graduated as a technology engineer in electronics­ICT at UHasselt­KU Leuven in 2014 and obtained his PhD at KU Leuven in 2020, with his research on an energy­efficient and secure im­ plementation for the IoT. Currently, he’s setting up a new hardware/software infrastructure, laying the groundwork for new IIoT systems for Flanders Make. The internal users are highly specialized re­ search engineers in areas such as mathematical op­ timization, robotics, drivetrain modeling, machine learning and learning control.

best and are good at. That would cost a lot in terms of finances and time. I’m building a platform where you can easily activate these components instead of creating your own imple­ mentation. We do this immediately, in an environment that’s representa­ tive of the way a company would use it. Setting up your own environment in the cloud would equate to a lot of added work for a business. This year, we’ll start with four in­ ternal labs and two partner labs at the universities, each of which has selected one project. As such, that will allow me to collaborate closely with many researchers. Up to now, researchers worked with local serv­ ers located at each lab, only 5 meters away from the equipment. In an in­ dustrial setting, however, these serv­ ers are usually centralized at a data center – something we imitate to of­ fer an industrially relevant platform.

Data reuse

The cloud has ‘endless’ computing power and storage capacity. On the flip side, however, the communica­ tion infrastructure between the cloud

and the devices isn’t always equally robust and doesn’t have infinite capa­ city. That’s why in connected plants, robots and work cells communicate with each other and to the cloud. Therefore, limiting the data streams is necessary due to the inadequate connection to the cloud. With edge computing, we now look to restrict the flow of data and bring cloud func­ tionalities, such as digital twins, clo­ ser to the local network. Hopefully, 5G will improve these communication aspects, with ac­ companying projects sure to follow. Working in a research environment offers the benefit of being able to switch topics sooner. We can also stop at a lower technology readiness level, compared to industry. If it works from an operational perspec­ tive, further development and opti­ mization is up to industrial parties. Apart from the communication aspects of data, we must also inves­ tigate the functional features. In the platform, we add semantics to ena­ ble reuse. Ignoring the meaning of data would mean we’d be generating gigabytes and terabytes that are only usable within one project, which isn’t sustainable. If we can maintain an overall structure, however, the data will be reusable for everyone within Flanders Make and all our in­ dustrial partners.

Exploring technologies

For me, my work is very interesting because I can explore many new tech­ nologies (AI, robotics, digital twins, augmented reality) and learn a lot. In a research center, you’re in the front row of new developments. I’m cer­ tainly looking forward to what will come next. Edited by Collin Arocho

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THEME CAREER AND LEADERSHIP

ORGANIZATION STRUCTURE CHANGE SHOWS PROMISING FIRST RESULTS In the past year, NTS changed the structure of its divisions because of its incessant growth. Organized in business lines in which dedicated multidisciplinary teams work for specific customers according to clearly defined KPIs, the company continuously improves its services. Working with his team for NTS’ largest client in the semiconductor industry, Ruud Kuepers is seeing the first promising results. Daniëlla van Laarhoven

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hen the structure of NTS’ Mechatronics division changed, my position changed as well. After having fulfilled the role of customer service executive, I was promoted to the role of business line manager. In the past, I used to connect people in the best way I could to offer the customer the best possible support. Now, I manage a team that works dedicatedly for one specific client according to a clear structure. 32

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SQDC boards

Within the Mechatronics division, there are now five business lines. Three of them work for one specific client. An analysis I’ve made over the last few months shows that we make an enormous number of large, critical modules and a great diversity in products and components. This diversity demands tight control. Some of the components are customized. That means little structure

and routine. Each day we produce various unique items. The main challenge is in the supply chain – 85 percent of the parts we need come from suppliers. All of the parts need to be delivered in time, according to specifications and with the right quality. My team consists of employees from different disciplines such as three buyers, a team lead, a quality assurance officer, three technical support professionals, nineteen cleanroom mechan-


ics and three persons for logistics. To work as efficiently as possible, we use a clear structure. We start our day with a meeting based on the SQDC boards (Safety, Quality, Delivery and Cost), a daily process management tool that helps us plan the day. Sales isn’t a direct part of my team. I speak to them on a daily basis, however, discussing the course of events and our strategy. Periodically, we talk about the roadmap. Besides this, we see to it that everyone knows what’s going on. In this way, we can focus on the right issues and make sure that the clients are always spoken to correctly and unambiguously.

cause of their expertise. This creates a mutual understanding. Moreover, it results in very good new ideas. A good example is what we’re working on at the moment: redesigning a cleanroom. The logistics expert wants to realize the most optimized workflow to work as efficiently as possible, the cleanroom employee considers his own work satisfaction and wants to sit closer to his colleague and the person responsible for the technology thinks about how we can work as cleanly as possible and achieve the highest quality. It’s then my responsibility to challenge my team members to come up with the best solutions together and make the final decision. I wasn’t authorized to do so in my previous position but I am now and that’s nice.

Mutual understanding

The new organizational structure is an absolute improvement. We see that people like working as a team on achieving mutual goals. Having a mutual goal and being successful together is extremely motivating, resulting in greater job satisfaction. It enables people to directly make improvements. It also reduces the frustration of those who feel something isn’t arranged properly. On the one hand, they can address topics and on the other hand, they experience why others make different choices be-

KPI board Reaching a performance of 98 percent is one of the personal goals of Ruud Kuepers, business line manager Mechatronics at NTS.

Customer satisfaction is our main priority. It forms the basis for our KPIs. Subjects we take into consideration include: delivering in time, dealing with our supplier network, risk management and supply chain strategy. This is the focus of our Mechatronics division. We introduced the customer to our new way of working, we informed

them of what was going to change and of how we were going to make the changes. In the business line, there’s now an enormous KPI board that gives insight into our goals and progress. Very transparent – our customer likes that as well. At a glance, we can see exactly how we’re doing. We define KPIs for a period of three months. Each week, our team stands in front of the KPI board to see whether we’re on track. My personal goal is to reach a performance of 98 percent. All improvements are displayed specifically and when we lag on a specific topic, we work extra hard on it. We celebrate our successes together. Recently, we ate cake when our quality performance had improved considerably. Changing the organizational structure was necessary because of the growth of NTS. It enables us to keep our focus on our customers. And it works – after three months already, the customer noticed the positive effects. Because of the new way of working and the fact that we’re physically in the same room, our reaction time is faster, we deliver better quality and we know what’s going on at a detailed level. Edited by Nieke Roos

3 33


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pinion

CAREER AND LEADERSHIP Hans Odenthal is group lead at Sioux Technologies.

Leadership isn’t only for the happy few

I

s leadership something only the happy few can attain? Perhaps if you take a very narrow-minded view. To me, “leadership is all about the question if you’re willing to take initiative,” as one of my favorite quotes says. It’s a simple piece of advice but not always easy to follow through on. Like one of the employees I coach once said: “I really want to be more proactive, but I don’t know where to start.” So, is “to be proactive” a synonym for taking the lead? Yes and no. Yes, because here it all starts. If you take the lead, others may take a cue from you. And no, because there’s more. If you take the initiative, always add a little bit of something of yourself. Do you appreciate someone sharing a Linkedin post without providing context that lets you know why you might find it interesting? Did the sender agree with the author? Or did he think that the article was complete nonsense? Believe me, you don’t want to be known for passing on mysterious messages. So, if you’re proactive and you add meaningful information, does that make you a great leader? If that was the case, everybody would follow you blindly. We all know that this isn’t common practice. You will get questions, pushback or endless discussions. It all comes to finding the right balance between being persistent and keeping an open mind. As always, the truth lies in the middle, but the middle shifts, depending on context. In the mix of required skills to take the lead, you always need to add some herbs and spices. These will make a difference in how your opinion is going to be digested. A teaspoon of courage, a pinch of sto-

rytelling and, of course, a splendid idea are essential ingredients. These ingredients are readily available, yet not so easy to get. One of my colleagues was grumbling about his project. “Nobody communicates,” he said. “What would you change, if you were the boss?” I asked

A teaspoon of courage, a pinch of storytelling and a splendid idea him. The condition of being the boss removes the obstacles to finding solutions. “If I were the boss, I’d immediately organize lunch sessions to share the status of each team.” He looked at me, waiting for me to respond. I dropped a silence. He continued: “I could suggest this to the project manager.” And after an even longer silence: “Or maybe I should organize the first and share the status of our team.” It only took a nod from me to start the first lunch session. My colleague is now organizing these lunch sessions on a bi-monthly basis and they’re much appreciated by the team. Instead of complaining, he took the initiative to start something new. Is this rocket science? No, definitely not. But it makes clear that everyone can take the lead. Even better, you end up with an organization with shared responsibility. People don’t need to be told what to do, they just do it. Other groups have already started to copy his idea.

A lot of people hesitate to take initiative because of the responsibility that comes with their idea or proposal. We like it when people follow our ideas, but a lot of us don’t like to be accountable for it. I have to warn you: it’s a package deal. You’ll get compliments and you’ll get complaints. Leadership means that you have to deal with both. A chef cannot simply say: “That’s not my dish, I only advised on the ingredients and on how to put them together.” You design the dish, you take the lead in the kitchen, with feedback from the guests and hopefully their praise. But all great stories start with taking initiative and taking that first step. Leadership takes flight with you taking the initiative and taking ownership. It’s within everybody’s range to take the lead. It’s not a matter of where to start; it’s more a matter of daring to start.

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PERSONAL LEADERSHIP IS THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATION In its five years of existence, the High Tech Systems Center (HTSC) has acquired a prominent position as a link between business and academia. Companies like to work with them and researchers like to be connected. What’s the key to this success? According to Katja Pahnke, HTSC’s co-director, leadership is as vital as technical excellence. Antoinette Brugman

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t took some time to adjust five years ago, when she started next to Maarten Steinbuch as director at High Tech Systems Center (HTSC). Katja Pahnke is originally a chemist, not an electrical engineer, software engineer, mechanical engineer, mechatronics engineer or physicist – the type of experts that HTSC usually brings together. “I came here looking to set up an organization and establish a new style of collaboration. Early on, I dealt with a lot of smart people who were focused mostly on content and quality of research, rather than on how to do things smarter or more commercially. That felt a bit lonely in the beginning.” Nowadays, Pahnke feels very comfortable, as her personal leadership has helped to successfully expand the activities of HTSC. HTSC brings several research activities in the field of complex 36

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high-tech systems to a single research center. The organization is embedded in Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) and combines the expertise of the faculties of mechanical and electrical engineering, mathematics and computer science, as well as applied physics. HTSC carries out multidisciplinary fundamental research and designs new concepts and prototypes in close collaboration between the academia and industry. Pahnke: “Businesses will come to HTSC to talk about the issues they’re encountering in industry. However, from the start, we’ve also had our own matching funds, which allows us to investigate issues with far more academic freedom. The researchers obviously find this free research very important, but industry also benefits as they look to be surprised with

new ideas. Sometimes, this kind of collaboration produces unexpected innovations that turn out to be gold. This is the kind of collaboration that we work to facilitate. Sometimes, we jokingly say: we get paid to color outside the lines!”

Multidisciplinary consortia

HTSC has made consortia building a cornerstone of its structure. A prerequisite for a consortium is that it’s multidisciplinary, involves several faculties and that it also includes an aspect of system architecture. The basis of any new research project always stems from a research question that’s derived from an industrial problem. So far, it seems this method is working, as the number of research positions at HTSC has doubled over the last five years – from 100 to over 200. Of these positions, 80 percent

Credit: Paul Raats

THEME CAREER AND LEADERSHIP


Credit: HTSC

are PhD candidates and 20 percent are trainees of the Mechatronic Systems Design course (PDEng). “In terms of hiring researchers, a lot has changed in the five years of our existence,” says Pahnke. “When we started, researchers from the university were mainly selected based on their substantive knowledge and the pool to select the new talent was big. Our faculties would decide which candidate best fits a research project in terms of education and experience. Currently, however, talent is much scarcer and one aspect is becoming increasingly important: how do we, at TUE, ensure that people choose us? I’m convinced that leadership also plays a major role in this.” “By using effective leadership qualities,” Pahnke continues, “you can ensure that there’s an inspiring working atmosphere within your organization, that you can offer researchers and employees cool challenges and that they’re given room to flourish as much as possible. This is how you ensure that people can utilize their strengths. This is exactly what I’m working on together with Maarten Steinbuch. This approach is clearly working, as the interest in working with us continues to expand. We can talk about the content and ways to fine-tune it, but we also have a sincere interest in people and a sensitivity to their ambitions. We aim to find people that have strong personalities and show ownership, entrepreneurship and tenacity to achieve their goals, such as agility to maneuver in complex circumstances.” Together, Pahnke and Steinbuch have a large network. When forming a multidisciplinary team, they carefully decide which person best fits the team in terms of personality and content. However, Pahnke emphasizes that there’s something else she finds very important in her team: diversity. “I believe that you need diversity for maximum inspiration and new innovations, by crossdisciplinary work. By this, I mean that you need, for example, people who may be a bit chaotic, but who

are incredibly creative at the same time. In addition, you also need people who work in a structured way and who can mold something into a plan, start it up and finish it off. The strength of leadership is that you bring this diversity to your team. This requires competencies from the hard, substantive side, but certainly also from the soft, personal side. I find it important that you empower people in this complex environment and that you offer them a pleasant working environment to which they want to commit themselves. And that every team member takes ownership and shows commitment to contribute to this. If you only focus on content, you can’t achieve this. This requires personal leadership.”

Personal leadership

“For me, the success of an organization starts with personal leadership,” Pahnke explains. “What I mean is that you have to know yourself well, as an executive, and keep yourself on track. It’s important to know how to set goals, stay true to your values and act accordingly. It’s also important that you realize you’re setting an example and you consciously show it. If you can display these characteristics, people in an environment with complex sub-

Maarten Steinbuch and Katja Pahnke talk about the content, but they also have a sincere interest in their people.

stantive questions will be driven to work with you. That’s how leadership binds good people to you and creates a good team. If you then show good leadership as a team, this, in turn, has a positive influence on the organization as a whole, and ultimately on the ecosystem in which the organization operates. In my opinion, this layering is an important aspect.” To maintain a good connection between academia and industry, HTSC works with fellows and program managers. “Fellows are people from industry who work part-time at HTSC and are a figurehead in a particular area or domain. They are real professionals, forming the link with the business community and playing a crucial role in the valorization of knowledge and embedded systems thinking. They have connections in industry and can make the link to scientists and faculties to develop new programs,” illustrates Pahnke. “One of them, for example, is Ton Peijnenburg, deputy general manager at VDL ETG. He has a great deal of knowledge about mechatronics, he masters thinking in system architecture like no other and is familiar with what’s involved in designing systems. Our program managers are the people who can build a large consortium in a specific area, for example robotics or 3D printing. Program managers are also people from industry, who work part-time for HTSC.” Successfully bridging the gap between the business community and TUE is another area that Pahnke believes leadership comes into play. “One important role in leadership is how you deal with the differences between the organizations. Maarten Steinbuch and I have both worked in industry, as well as in a university environment. I also worked at the applied science organization TNO. As a result, we know the culture of these organizations and the field in which they operate, we know how processes run and how the innovation chain runs. Because you’re familiar with the organizations, you speak each other’s language and can better tune 3 37


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THEME CAREER AND LEADERSHIP

in and respond to the differences and build on the complementary qualities for a common goal,” highlights Pahnke. “For example, the university is characterized – something that touches enormously on my German values – by striving to be the best and wanting to excel. Because of this, projects can sometimes take a long time. In the business world, people also want to show excellent entrepreneurship, but sometimes 80 percent of the result is sufficient for this as other aspects come into play, such as the much higher dynamics and commercial interests. But it’s precisely because of these differences that both worlds can learn a lot from each other and come together.” The Amsystems Center, a joint innovation center for additive manufacturing, is a good example to illustrate how personal leadership can lead to success in the high-tech world. “I knew TNO very well and TNO was physically in the TUE area – proximity helps enormously. The idea had long been to set up a multidisciplinary collaboration, but this often stuck to policy matters,” remembers Pahnke. “We then put our shoulders to the wheel together, took ownership and showed strength and speed. The Amsystems Center was created and in just three years’ time, the efforts culminated in almost 20 PhDs and a few Mechatronics Systems Design designers, in addition to many joint research projects,” Pahnke says with pride.

Cross-fertilization

Even large companies and industry leaders see the additional value of the multidisciplinary character of the projects within HTSC. This became evident when ASML reached out wanting to set up a project with a totally new wafer stage concept using piezo actuators, in addition to other tweaks. For this, the chip machine

maker wanted to take a few steps back in the design of an existing concept, to be able to make a new design in complete freedom, but with one condition: this process could only be successful if it was carried out on colocation in a multidisciplinary team. “When discussing ASML’s plans, we saw opportunities to transfer this project to Eindhoven Engine, a public-private research organization on the TUE campus that accelerates innovations in the Brainport region. At HTSC, we work on projects that last four years on average. At Eindhoven Engine, however, we have projects in which knowledge institutes – TUE, Fontys and TNO – and industry work together so efficiently that they bring innovations to the market more quickly,” describes Pahnke. “The enormous acceleration at Eindhoven Engine is achieved by working on a number of parallel projects, in different domains, and by the collaboration of employees from the business community with researchers from the academic world and knowledge institutes. Through cross-fertilization between the various parallel projects, taking place at one common location and through a

Katja Pahnke: “Personal leadership starts with knowing yourself, knowing how to set goals, how to remain faithful to your values and to act accordingly.”

certain way of working, projects are accelerated and the collective intelligence is better utilized.” The successful project with ASML shows that it’s important for innovations to adopt a different approach. Pahnke explains: “You have to organize unexpected encounters between different disciplines, but also between researchers and industry. A source of inspiration was the Philips Natlab. By putting people from different disciplines together in a colocation, surprising things are created.” “I’m convinced that we’ve shown that the collaboration we’re facilitating from HTSC is a very promising way of working for the future. An adaptive, agile organization at the interface of industry and science, such as HTSC, can help to set innovations in motion and keep them in the region. It can also help to attract and retain the talent you need to do so. In the end, you want to get the right people in the right place, and you want to retain them. In my opinion, this can only be achieved through personal leadership. And yes, finally that also affects your team, your organization and the ecosystem in which you operate. And that’s what you want!” 3 39


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pinion

INDUSTRIAL AUTOMATION Robert Howe is an independent management consultant.

Industry 4.0 key to surviving the corona crisis

W

hile “may you live in interesting times” may be a curse of apocryphal Chinese origins, the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not. Although the full economic consequences are far from clear, we can be sure there will be lasting, if not permanent changes to global trade. As we proceed from the onset of the crisis to recovery, we can also expect a massive shake-up of markets, dwarfing that of the 2008 crash. Fueled by bloated private equity funds, the resultant M&A feeding frenzy will rapidly differentiate weak businesses from the strong, slow businesses from the smart. In these extreme business conditions, leadership becomes about adapting, being agile and making judgment calls based on experience and belief. Pre-crisis, industrial digitalization was an important subject on the strategic to-do list of many manufacturing companies. Increased productivity, lower production costs, faster time to market and the ability to quickly and profitably respond to changing consumer demands – the most-touted benefits of Industry 4.0 – were powerful arguments for its adoption. But equally, the very vagueness of the term Industry 4.0 obfuscated the apparent value of industrial digital transformation. Many business managers simply couldn’t make a connection between the benefits of Industry 4.0 and the operations of their organization. To bridge this gap, many businesses attempted to base their approach to digitalization on a credible cost analysis of the return on technology investment. However, traditional ROI calculation methods based on speculative business cases don’t work

well for investments in ‘soft’ propositions such as increased productivity or faster time to market. There is simply too much room for the inherent guesswork and opinion to be incessantly debated within an organization, leading to digital transformation becoming bogged down. This has been the status quo for many industrial companies, with market surveys indicating that while the majority recognize the potential

The leadership of a company must adopt an entrepreneurial state of mind of Industry 4.0, a small minority have actually been successful at doing anything about it. After all, in the old world everyone was busy with normal life and there was no particular urgency. But now the world has changed and for many businesses, the situation has become nothing if not urgent. As is the nature of these things, at a time when business managers typically retreat from pursuing new initiatives, the benefits of Industry 4.0 have moved from “nice to have” to “essential for survival.” Realistically, there is no longer time to debate the assumptions underlying a speculative business case for digital transformation. An Industry 4.0 initiative can’t be treated as just another IT project or plant-level initiative. Furthermore,

a vital part of Industry 4.0 is about achieving continuous, flexible scalability towards changing circumstances and new business opportunities. To deal with this, the leadership of a company must adopt an entrepreneurial state of mind: recognize that the company’s frame of reference has changed, that uncertainty is the order of the day; believe that digitalization offers the company a path through the chaos, a way of competing and prospering in unpredictable circumstances ahead of specific supporting evidence. And yet, even in the new world, the company’s business management still may not be able to make a connection between the needs of their business, digital transformation, Industry 4.0 and its underlying technologies. However, that’s a problem that can be solved by working with industry experts who can help analyze the objectives of a business and devise appropriate digital transformation initiatives. We’re not talking grand plans here, either. Successful digitalization programs focus on addressing low-hanging fruit and achieving short-term wins: involve, pilot, evaluate, deploy, repeat. Attempting to use business cases and ROI calculations to justify digital transformation was always a time-consuming work of fiction. In the new world, there’s no time for fiction. The fact is that industrial digitalization breeds its own success. It gives birth to new and potentially surprising business opportunities. It’s the gateway to surviving and competing in the new world. Therefore, business cases should be the consequence of industrial digitalization and not a justification for it. 3 41


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18 – 20 November 2020 (3 consecutive days)

Starts 7 April 2021 (4 days in 2 weeks)

Design of analog electronics – analog IC design

Secure coding in C and C++

Starts 1 February 2021 (11 days in 18 weeks)

NEW

OPTICS

12 – 14 April 2021 (3 consecutive days)

Solid State generated RF & applications NEW! 3 – 5 March 2021 (3 consecutive days)

SYSTEM Design for manufacturing

MECHATRONICS

Starts 1 September 2020 (3 days in 3 weeks + assurance session)

MECHATRONICS

System architect(ing) in Eindhoven

Thermal effects in mechatronic systems

28 September – 2 October 2020 (5 consecutive days)

8 – 10 September 2020 (3 consecutive days)

System requirements engineering improvement

Advanced feedforward & learning control

30 September – 2 October 2020 (3 consecutive days)

Mechatronics system design – part 2 5 – 9 October 2020 (5 consecutive days)

Mechatronics system design – part 1

12 – 16 October 2020 (5 consecutive days)

Advanced motion control

26 – 30 October 2020 (5 consecutive days)

Metrology & calibration of mechatronic systems 27 – 29 October 2020 (3 consecutive days)

1 & 2 October 2020 (2 consecutive days) NEW N TIO LOCA

System architect(ing) in Leuven (Belgium) NEW LOCATION! 16 – 20 November 2020 (5 consecutive days)

Introduction to SysML 4 March 2020 (1 day)

Systems modelling with SysML

12 – 15 April 2021 (4 consecutive days)

Value-cost ratio improvement by value engineering 20 & 21 May 2020 (2 consecutive days)


NEWS SOFTWARE

Corona has German software houses shifting their business A survey of VDMA Software and Digitalization shows that about half of the software and digitalization industry is thinking about new business models or has even changed its portfolio due to the current situation. René Raaijmakers

G

erman software houses observe that their customer base of mechanical engineering companies is lacking a digitalization strategy and is postponing digitalization projects due to the corona crisis. Suppliers are reacting swiftly by changing their portfolios and offering new products. Among the new offerings are virtual training or product presentations, as well as products for remote support and predictive maintenance. A survey of VDMA Software and Digitalization shows that about half of the software and digitalization industry (51 percent) is thinking about new business models or has even changed its portfolio due to the current situation. According to German IT and software suppliers, the biggest challenge in the area of digitalization for mechanical engineering companies is the lack of digitalization strategies within the company. More than half of the software houses surveyed by mechanical engineering industry association VDMA (53 percent) say that postponing or even canceling digitalization projects is a major problem for their customers

in the mechanical engineering sector. Of the 51 German software houses surveyed, 27 point out that the cancellation of projects is threatening the continuity of the digitalization process at their customers from the mechanical engineering industry. Further challenges of digitalization are missing collaboration tools (47 percent)

What are the biggest challenges your customers face today?

0

Digitalization strategy

53

Canceled budgets

53

Communication tools for web-based mobile working

47

Continuity in value creation processes

43

Reduced budgets

35

IT infrastructure and IT solutions for web-based mobile working

35

IT security solutions for web-based mobile working

33

Staff shortages in IT and software development

27

Knowledge about digitalization

25

10

20

30

51 software houses surveyed – numbers are percentages

40

50

60

Source: VDMA Software and Digitalization

and the lack of or insufficient digital continuity of value-added chains (43 percent). The VDMA says mechanical engineering is well positioned in production-related digitalization. This could be read as an understatement and as a diplomatic call to their 3,000+ members to urge them to stay competitive by embracing digitalization. The surveyed software houses from the VDMA membership see the opportunity, especially in the crisis, to push forward the digitalization of business processes and workflows. “One major opportunity will be to build and strengthen customer relationships by combining distance and proximity, for example by visualizing showrooms or training sessions,” says Claus Oetter, managing director of VDMA Software and Digitalization. Oetter regards digitalization as an important component in building resilience against crises. “Anyone who now courageously and consistently questions their business model will generate opportunities from the crisis. Anyone who has already mastered virtual commissioning and simulation is already a winner,” he says. 3 43


B a c kg r o u n d

Chip design

UT and Axign put the brakes on radio interference As the digitalized world is flooded with new electronic devices and components, electromagnetic interference (EMI) is becoming a much bigger problem. As part of the public-private collaboration between Axign and the University of Twente, researchers are discovering how to reduce this EMI from audio amplifiers to keep your car running smoothly. Collin Arocho

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Credit: Axign

A

s the world pushes further into the digital era, the growing use of electronics continues to pave the way. Take, for instance, your car, where an increasing number of modern-day features, like eye detection, parking assist, various cameras and radar systems, are more and more common. But as consumer demands and expectations are always on the rise, these features can sometimes intrude on many of the technologies that have long been utilized, forcing the industry experts to continually find innovative solutions to overcome new challenges. One such obstacle is the interference caused by audio amplifiers in automobiles. As cars start to implement more radio frequency (RF) technology for safety, communications and entertainment, designers are stuck in a balancing act to include all the latest technology, while also preventing the bleed-over of RF signals, which can restrict or corrupt other radio systems. Looking to find new and inventive methods to mitigate this interference, Enschede’s Axign turned to the University of Twente to establish a public-private collaboration on a project called Intelligent Class D Control (ICDC). Chipmaker NXP, Teledyne Dalsa and Bruco also joined to help guide the project. The goal: to create a cost-efficient method to amplify sound, while adhering to strict emissions standards of the automotive industry.

Electronic switches

“Traditional amplifiers use an analog, non-switching design, meaning the power transistors in the output stage are continuously conducting current. This type of amplifier has worked great for many decades, but the power efficiency is really low,” describes Ronan van der Zee, assistant professor of integrated circuit design at the University of Twente (UT). “Switching amplifiers have a much better power efficiency, but they come with disadvantages.” “That’s how the project came to be,” adds Daniel Schinkel, technology advisor at Axign. “We wanted to make switching power converters better, in the sense of lower emissions, which is known to cause big issues for amplifiers.” Different from analog, these modern switched-mode audio amplifiers utilize

transistors that act as electronic switches to push the sound through a speaker – resulting in amplified sound. The issue that

ICDC

Within the Intelligent Class D Control (ICDC) project, Axign and the University of Twente (UT) are looking to create a cost-efficient method to amplify sound, while adhering to strict emissions standards of the automotive industry. NXP, Teledyne Dalsa and Bruco help guide the project. UT participation is co-funded by Holland High Tech, Top Sector HTSM, with a public-private partnership grant for research and innovation.


Digital domain

Under the guidance of Axign and assistant professor Van der Zee, Lokin worked, as part of his PhD, to design a filter that could sift out the excessive EMI content at the output of the amplifier – the part that feeds into the speaker. “It’s not an actual component that Chris developed, it’s electronic. We’re an integrated circuit design group, so we aim to get everything on a chip,” depicts Van der Zee. “The filter is synthesized in the digital domain and it behaves similarly to a physical component, but it does it all on-chip.”

“Our filter-response model was made specifically for Axign’s chip. We were able to design a filter that can fit inside their current product,” adds Lokin. “Then, by adding one extra component on the outside, we could filter out the high-frequency components from the signal that are known to radiate and cause interference with other devices.” How exactly will this help society? What is it that consumers will notice? “Well, first and foremost probably, people will notice that their devices simply work. By reducing the EMI emitted from amplifiers and power converters, it will be less likely to corrupt other nearby components,” says Lokin. According to Schinkel, another benefit would be for those living in rural areas, with more limited access to radio communications. “It’s well known that the EMI of the high-frequency pulses of class D amplifiers has a direct effect, for instance, on the AM radio band,” he elaborates. “While that’s no longer widely used in more urbanized coun-

High tech highlights

A series of public-private success stories by Bits&Chips

Credit: University of Twente/ICD group/Arnoud Rop

Credit: University of Twente/ICD group/Arnoud Rop

both Van der Zee and Schinkel refer to is that in commonly used class D amplifiers, as the signal passes from the sound source to the speaker, it often causes interference with the other radios in the car, ie distortion or even failure of systems like the car’s Bluetooth connection, among many others. “With a class D amplifier, it’s high frequencies that make efficient amplification possible. But with this also comes electromagnetic radiation that can interfere with the car’s other devices,” explains Chris Lokin, PhD student in the UT’s Integrated Circuit Design group. “In my research, I worked to develop a new technique that works as an add-on for these amplifiers and is designed to significantly lower the EMI emissions.”

tries, like the Netherlands, in many places around the world, like in rural America, people still rely on AM. These emissions also have some effects on the FM band, but that’s something we’ll look deeper into during the next phase of the project.”

A factor of 100

Though the newly designed chip add-on hasn’t been through an official testing and measuring environment, which requires a very costly anechoic (echo-free) chamber that adheres to strict guidelines, the ICDC project has yielded strong results. Saving on both cost and time, EMI performance was measured in the lab and translated to real-life automotive testing parameters through simulation models developed by NXP. While the chip hasn’t quite hit its goal to reach the threshold rate of emissions set by regulators, it’s getting very close. To date, the ICDC team has managed to reduce EMI emissions by more than a factor of 100 – from way over the emissions allowance, to just over regulations. Perhaps more notably, however, is that this feat was achieved by using inexpensive, and sometimes suboptimal, components. “The crux of this project is to see if we could solve this fundamental problem,” depicts Van der Zee. “So far, we’ve been able to do this on a budget and with a timeline that focuses on Chris being able to complete his PhD. Our results are very promising and we believe we can likely achieve even better reductions by further integrating the components on a single chip. We could also utilize more-expensive components, but the whole idea of the project is to be as relevant to industry as possible, which means making a tradeoff between performance and cost.” 3 45


INTERVIEW BOB PUERS

“MY PHDS WEREN’T ALLOWED TO LEAVE WITHOUT LEAVING SOMETHING ON THE TABLE” A pioneer in the design of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) with an additional passion for everything mechanical, a pragmatist and a very good teacher. That’s professor Bob Puers in a nutshell. He was chosen lecturer of the year in 2018 for his excellent MEMS training. Antoinette Brugman

The scientist

Puers’ MEMS experience goes back to his study in electrical engineering. He was very interested in research 46

3

Credit: Bob Puers

A

curious course with overwhelming feedback from the trainees – that’s how Bob Puers describes the microelectromechanical training course he taught in 2018 to a group of fifteen industrials from Pakistan. Puers: “It was held in China because of difficulties with the exchange of Pakistani. The trainees were all extremely willing to learn. I really appreciated this eagerness and also the particularly good interaction with the group. We had a lot of discussion on a very high level.” In their feedback, the trainees said about Puers: “It was an excellent training both in terms of contents and presentation. The trainer was exceptional in answering questions raised” and “The professor’s way of teaching is extraordinarily good.” This positive feedback resulted in a review score of 9.8 out of 10 and the title “Lecturer of the year 2018.” Puers is modest about his contribution and points out that all the praise is probably due to accidental circumstances. However, when explaining his way of teaching and his knowledge about microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), it’s easily understood how he earned the title.

and had a special passion for everything mechanical. When he came in contact with Raoul Vereecken, a urologist at the University Hospital in Leuven, he got involved in the development of portable, implantable medical electronics. He continued his career in this domain and started his own research group at the KU Leuven in 1988. Soon he had the disposal of his own cleanroom to fabricate devices such as pressure sensors, accelerometers and flow sensors.

In his research, Puers focused on the application of medical implantable electronics and the development of technology to produce sensors – he’s always been motivated to develop devices and is working in a pragmatic way to realize this. If Puers knows a certain principle works, he doesn’t delve too much into the details of the theory but uses this knowledge to put it into practice and make new devices. And being a man of practice: he’s always stimulated his


Credit: Bob Puers Credit: Bob Puers

PhDs to physically build a device. As Puers puts it: “My PhDs weren’t allowed to leave without leaving something on the table.” Puers continues: “In our cleanroom, I developed lithography and application techniques with our group of researchers. We made more sophisticated mechanical structures – on a miniature scale. The whole process of developing a very small mechanical structure, integrating it in an electronic component – to convert the mechanical signal into an electronic one – and finally building a sensor out of it – that still fascinates me.” There have been many developments in Puers’ discipline. “Back in 1985, our group was one of the first to develop accelerometers. These devices were ground breaking at the time. Nowadays, accelerometers are integrated into commercial products like smartphones and cars at incredibly low cost. There are quite a lot of devices we laid the basis for, ideas that were taken over by the industry later on. So, we had to search for new research domains several times.” MEMS developments are still ongoing. The current trends are far-reaching miniaturization and very low power consumption. This makes sense, for many sensors are applied in portable medical applications and thus have to be as energy efficient as possible.

The teacher

As a KU Leuven employee, teaching was part of Puers’ tasks. He started as a teacher of courses in biomedical electronic systems. Later on, he also taught about MEMS production technology. These courses still form the basis of his microelectromechanical systems training at High Tech Institute. “It’s challenging to educate people and to get them excited about the science domains that you find fascinating yourself,” Puers explains. “You’ll never get them all interested. Only about one third to half of the university students get excited about the subject, the others only do what they’re told. However, High

Tech institute trainees are always people with specific interests who share my enthusiasm. They usually have some experience already, so we have a lot of detailed and specific discussions during the courses. I really like that interaction.” Puers started his training course for High Tech Institute in 2009 – being a specialist, he was asked to educate people about MEMS. His goal is to introduce his trainees to the domain. “I want them to know more about all the techniques that have been developed over the years to produce mi-

cromechanical systems. I explain the possibilities and the impossibilities of MEMS, zooming in at system level. About half of the course I spend on the instruments we have at our disposal to build a sensor or actuator. These are all necessary techniques, like etching, bonding, packaging and coating. In the second part of the training, I teach the trainees about all kinds of successful applications, like flow and pressure sensors, optical systems and medical implants. In the end, the trainees should know what’s possible and what’s almost impossible. I want them to be able to judge how realistic new concepts are.” His vast MEMS experience, being involved from the very beginning, makes Puers a knowledgable teacher. But he’s also skillful in tuning to his audience. “I always answer questions that pop up during the course. Sometimes I can do that straight away because I know the answer from experience. If I don’t know the answer, I get back to the issue the next course day. I like to anticipate questions and feedback in my training. Teaching is a process of evolution. In every new course, I use the experience of previous courses, so my intellectual baggage as a teacher is continuously being enriched. In this way, I’m constantly refining my courses and adjusting them to my audience and their prior knowledge.” 3 47


Credit: Silvia Zamboni

INTERVIEW VINICIUS LICKS (INSPER COLLEGE)

BRANDING MECHATRONICS WITH THE DUTCH APPROACH The Netherlands has long worked to put its stamp on mechatronics design and development. One way the country maintains its ‘Dutch approach’ is through trainings to transfer the knowledge. But how does that differ from other regions in the world? Vinicius Licks, professor of mechatronics at Brazil’s Insper College, shares what he observed attending Dutch mechatronics training. Collin Arocho

W

ith a rich history of technical innovation embedded in its culture, the Netherlands has long been at the cutting edge of technology and engineering. This advanced position stems, in part, from the robust relationship between industry leaders and the technical universities. However, another instrument the Dutch use to maintain a healthy high-tech ecosystem is through the utilization of courses and trainings to both transfer and preserve the knowledge. Now, as the Netherlands’ high-tech industry continues to hold its influence on global markets and supply chains, it should come as no surprise that the country’s expertise and skills within the realm are also of great international appeal.

48

3

Just ask Vinicius Licks, professor and associate dean of the mechatronics program at Insper College in São Paulo, Brazil. In 2018, Licks made his first of three long treks from South America straight to the Netherlands. He didn’t travel across the globe to enjoy a vacation; he came to get a feel for the Dutch high-tech environment, specifically through the mechatronics training cluster provided by High Tech Institute. “Training is one of the best ways to get in touch with new ideas and often to get new perspectives on old ideas,” says Licks. “It’s a great opportunity to communicate with your peers, exchange best practices and learn how to push the state-of-theart in the field.”

Eye opening

Of course, coming from a setting in higher education, Licks was more accustomed to attending conferences, rather than technical training programs. “I work for an academic institution, so usually we’re the trainers, not the trainees,” he jokes. “But this was truly an eye-opening experience for me.” According to Licks, his first course, the “Motion control tuning” training, offered him a vastly different perspective on teaching and learning feedback control. “Most schools that I’m familiar with emphasize system identification in the sense that you must use it first to get a plant model to work with in your tuning efforts. The approach that I was exposed to during


Credit: Insper

the training, however, was more ex­ perimentalist. The focus was less on the ‘modeling from first principles’ part and more on using frequen­ cy response estimates to tune the controller iteratively. While this ap­ proach to teaching feedback control was new to me, it was clear that for the control engineers in the Dutch mechatronics cluster, this was com­ mon sense.” Enthusiastic after completing his first course, Licks made the long journey across the Atlantic twice more in 2019, specifically for two more courses in the Mechatronics Academy’s training curriculum: “Ad­ vanced motion control” and “Experi­ mental techniques in mechatronics.” “I was so impressed with the courses that I attended, they really helped me sharpen my skills and understand­ ing of the Dutch cultural approach to mechatronics, both practical and theoretical,” highlights Licks. “The instructors were very knowledgeable and all of them professionally con­ nected due to working or studying together in the past. That makes a big difference in terms of continuity and coherence of the content they’re

delivering – all with the same vocab­ ulary and experimental references.” “The curricula are very meaning­ ful and relevant. They’re completely designed for someone who wants to have a complete view of the field of mechatronics design. The sequence of courses is built in such a way that some frameworks will be dealt with continuously, but from different per­ spectives and with increasing com­ plexity. This is very rewarding because you feel that someone has put in time and effort to really think about what’s included in every one of the cours­ es,” depicts Licks. “It’s most likely, of course, that this is the work of many people and the outcome of several it­ erations of offering the same courses along the years, but also of caring to ‘close the loop’ with student feedback.” How were these trainings different from others that you’ve attended elsewhere? “These trainings, in particular, have given me a different perspective about how feedback control theo­ ry can be taught and learned, as well as the importance of creating common project frameworks before

sharing these frameworks with all your teams and making sure that ev­ ery new team member will be well­ versed in those frameworks as soon as possible. Coming from outside the Dutch cluster, it’s very interesting to realize how much shared knowledge there is in this industry in the Neth­ erlands. People have been indoctri­ nated, in a positive way, into using the same conceptual tools and vo­ cabularies, which makes the region much more productive. It’s amazing to see all these people getting so ex­ cited to look at an experimental Ny­ quist plot,” laughs Licks, “I’ve never seen such a fervent devotion to the frequency response function.”

Pragmatic

Automation and Control Lab at Insper College in São Paulo, Brazil.

Another specific difference that Licks sees in the Dutch courses, versus oth­ ers, is the style and format in which the training is presented. He says, of the several previous trainings he’s at­ tended, they almost always fall in one of two categories: extremely theo­ retical or purely empirical. “Instruc­ tors coming from academia tend to be more prone to the theory, while typically, the industrial side is drawn the other way. What I experienced in the Netherlands was a methodology that mixed both worlds in such a way that theory was always informed by experimentation. You see that theo­ ry actually works in practice and you have a robust understanding of why this works because of the theoreti­ cal background. It’s this approach to teaching and learning that reflects much of the pragmatism embedded in the ‘Dutch way’ of doing mecha­ tronics design.” Do you have any plans to return for a fourth training course? “As a matter of fact, yes. I’m looking forward to attending the ‘Advanced feedforward and learning control’ training. But I still have to convince the organizers to include additional sessions closer to the summer when the weather in the Netherlands is way more attractive!” 3 49


O

pinion INNOVATION Paul van Gerven is an editor at Bits&Chips.

Dillydallying

I

concluded my opening editorial two Bits&Chips issues ago with an encouragement for public authorities to (among other things) start throwing money at green technology. I must have been in a bit of a philosophical mood the day I found the paper magazine with said article on my desk, because when I re-read my own work (yes, I am that vain), it occurred to me that it’s kind of funny that to solve the global warming crisis, we’re actually betting on the very thing that set it in motion in the first place. The constantly expanding nature of technology renders this line of reasoning flawed, obviously, but it does expose a human instinct in modern times: that technology will come to the rescue. It’s not hard to see how such a belief has come to be. Looking back at how science and technology have transformed society and the world over the centuries, there’s something inevitable and unstoppable about them. Technological progress is a given so ingrained that it’s never challenged. So why would it fail us now, battling climate change? Ironically, however, so far our faith in technological progress has only worked to make matters worse. As long as global warming has been on the agenda, political leaders have simply been putting off taking action, believing technology will pick up the slack eventually. Two decades of reports, summits and agreements have failed to produce results, while the problem grew ever larger. As climate researchers recently outlined in Nature, the result of this dillydallying in the past decade is that the world now must do four times the work, or do the same amount in one third of the time.

50

3

Of course, there have always been people who didn’t believe in the technological magic bullet. Though some consider things like solar panels and wind farms useful additions, many environmentalists point to human behavior as the primary problem. They argue that global warming is about ever-expanding demands of humankind on a planet with finite re-

Marry technological with social innovation sources, which can only be halted by cutting consumption. It’s clear why most politicians haven’t embraced this school of thought. People generally don’t like to give up their comforts or sacrifice economic growth. The tech believers and the consumption cutters do have something in common. The former subscribe to hypothetical solutions in the future, the latter turn to lifestyle changes whose biggest effect is to make them feel better about themselves. Effectively, both groups don’t take any meaningful action. As TS Elliot said, humankind cannot bear very much reality. So, that’s it then? Everyone sticks theirs heads in the sand and we’re getting nowhere? Well, yes and no. If you ask me, disruptive climate change is already inevitable. Whatever clever technology we’ll come up with or whatever systemic consumption-cutting measures we (somehow) manage to implement,

they’ll only serve to prevent worse. But doing something still trumps doing nothing. If the corona outbreak has done any good, it may be that it has shown us that technology alone cannot necessarily solve all problems. The best way forward, therefore, might be to merge the tech and behaviororiented approaches: marry technological with social innovation. Forget politicians and their endless policy deliberations, always waiting for the slowest ones to catch up. Let science and society experiment bottom-up with whatever might help. Have scientists and society help each other, be it to make the most of green technology we already have or to find better ways to persuade the general public to adopt a lower-emission lifestyle. Keep what works, discard what fails. Piecemeal techno-socio engineering we might call it.


UPCOMING ISSUES

Trends in software development

Technologies for the IoT

Bits&Chips 4 | 4 September 2020

Bits&Chips 5 | 2 October 2020

High-tech systems are increasingly dependent on software development for their quality, reliability, security and commercial success. What are the do’s and don’ts? What are the state-of-the-art methods and tools? This issue shares findings from the field.

From consumer devices to vehicles and machines: these days everything’s plugged into the Internet. The IoT is playing an increasingly central role in our daily lives. This issue dives into the current state of the technologies that make it possible to connect everything to everything else.

Interested in contributing? nieke@techwatch.nl

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