High-tech collaboration to the next level
T-Valley brings higher education and industry together in the eastern Netherlands.
Under the name of T-Valley, Mechatronics Valley Twente will be reinvigorated and strive towards a more comprehensive and ambitious goal. In addition to mechatronic education and profiling of the high-tech industry in the eastern Netherlands, other important tenets are knowledge exchange and concrete projects in the fields of robotics and smart industry. Initiator Dirk Bekke, lector in Mechatronics at Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede, has already received support from a large number of organisations, Novel-T and Oost NL. This past week, they signed the letter of intent for the official foundation of the T-Valley foundation.
Sixteen years ago, Mechatronics Valley Twente (MVT) was founded. Its primary goal was to safeguard the continuity of mechatronic design education at the University of Twente (UT). Since then, the UT has trained a large group of mechatronic engineers who have found their way to high-tech organisations in the eastern Netherlands and outside it. Furthermore, MVT put Twente and the surrounding area on the map as a principal mechatronics region, for example with the annual T-Valley convention. After ten successful years, the organisation became less active for a while. Now, MVT will be reinvigorated and continue as T-Valley. The initiator of this development is Dirk Bekke, lector in Mechatronics at Saxion University of Applied Sciences.
The Saxion lectorate Mechatronics was founded in 2011, partly at the initiative of the high-end supplier DEMCON, IMS and several other parties from the board of T-Valley. “During the start-up phase, my predecessor Rini Zwikker worked on mechatronic building blocks for various applications, including medical robotics. Think of e.g. robot arms, grippers, navigation, computer vision and an exoskeleton. A demonstrator was also built. When I succeeded Rini last year, I continued in the same vein and explored demand in the region. Our students mostly end up at local companies, so it makes sense to ask them about their needs. As a lectorate, we operate in a demand-driven manner. By collaborating with industrial partners, we can increase our impact in the region.”
Acquiring and providing knowledge
T-Valley Must now organise the collaboration between the industry and Saxion’s education and research in a structural manner and provide it with a solid foundation in the eastern Netherlands. “We want to ensure that students and knowledge flow smoothly from the knowledge institutes to the corporations. T-Valley will be a cluster and networking organisation that expands the scope of MVT. We not only provide mechatronic education and external knowledge sharing, but we will also collaborate with the corporations to actively develop and share knowledge during expert sessions. It is about acquiring and providing knowledge.” Workshops will be held for the formulation of major research programs and proposals, so corporations can pose their questions and contribute their expertise. The next T-Valley convention, which offers high-tech corporations in the eastern Netherlands a national platform, will be held this spring. Companies now also have the option to temporarily assign one of their experts to the Saxion lectorate, e.g. to serve as a part-time assistant lector.
Ahead of the official launch of T-Valley, Saxion and the various corporations involved have already set up a wide variety of small- and large-scale joint projects. The companies IMS and Voortman Steel Group, for example, are examining how to make even more effective use of computer vision in the machines they manufacture. Benchmark Electronics and Bronkhorst High-Tech are exploring the use of cobots (collaborative robots), which can collaborate with humans on the assembly of high-tech products in order to execute complex, high-precision tasks together. Bekke: “Together, we will determine whether this is truly a promising technology and which steps in an assembly process can and cannot be carried out with the help of a cobot. We are also bringing in researchers from the social domain. How do the employees feel about this development? Will they view the cobot as a tool or as competition? We work together with Maarten van Riemsdijk, Saxion lector in Smart Industry & Human Capital. Together with both DEMCON and Machinefabriek Boessenkool, we are developing drones that will be used by e.g. farmers, fire departments and the military.” TechforFuture, the Centre of expertise HTSM Oost of Saxion and Windesheim Universities of Applied Sciences, is closely involved in the projects. Bekke: “In addition to the knowledge institutes ROC of Twente and the University of Twente, Windesheim in Zwolle and HAN University of Applied Sciences are also valuable collaboration partners in the eastern Netherlands.
T-Valley will receive ample support from the high-tech industry in the Netherlands from the start. Seven corporations are represented on the foundation’s board: Benchmark Electronics (Almelo), Bronkhorst High-Tech (Ruurlo), DEMCON (Enschede), IMS (Almelo), Machinefabriek Boessenkool (Almelo), MetricControl (Hengelo, province of Overijssel) and Voortman Steel Group (Rijssen). Development company Oost NL supports the initiative. Various knowledge institutes, corporations and governments are involved in the organisation’s daily management, represented by Peter van Dam (director of Saxion University of Applied Sciences’ Life Science, Engineering & Design Academy), Dennis Schipper (director of DEMCON) and Jaap Beernink (director of Novel-T, formerly Kennispark Twente).