Thinking outside the box: students, SMEs and the SmartMan project
As an Eindhoven Engine stakeholder, Fontys University of Applied Science has a vital role to play in connecting innovative minds. In the SmartMan project, this centers on the intersection of students and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as Fontys colleagues Hans Krikhaar and Kees Adriaanse explain.
Passing the baton
“I always thought that when you get older, you should stop the career rat race and transmit your knowledge to young people. That’s the reason I started at Fontys,” begins Hans, Professor of Smart Manufacturing and project leader of SmartMan. “All of our students do projects in industry. By introducing new ideas to these projects, we help industry to improve.”
“All of our students do projects in industry. By introducing new ideas to these projects, we help industry to improve.”
This manifests itself in SmartMan, which investigates various aspects of smart manufacturing and executes student projects at SMEs. Since the project’s start in September 2020, two topics have evolved internally: quick response manufacturing and additive manufacturing & topological design. The former focuses on aspects like logistics and bottlenecks while the latter enables durable, lightweight structures with less material requirements.
Step by step
Eindhoven Engine’s goal of accelerating innovation requires collaboration; collaboration often requires a community. And as Kees notes, the ideal community connects all links of the chain for maximum impact. “Universities mostly work with fundamental research at TRLs 1, 2 and 3, but Fontys is working more at 4 to 7. Fontys is more connected to SMEs than universities. When Fontys and the university work together, Eindhoven Engine’s scope is broader.”
“With our students, we can implement step-by-step processes.”
Aligning itself with the agendas of both Brabant and Brainport, SmartMan is thus building a community of SMEs with an uncharacteristically high focus on innovation. “The return on investment for SMEs needs to be quick because they don’t have large budgets,” says Hans. “With our students, we can implement step-by-step processes. If each small step brings them economic benefits, they’ll do the next one.”
A fresh set of eyes
Although physical meetings have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans have now been made for a SmartMan co-location in the MMP building. For Kees, this is an excellent step for both Fontys and the Engine. “In the Centre of Expertise HTSM, we’re used to connecting companies and research groups. There are almost 6000 companies in the HTSM sector in this region and I hope that they find a way to innovate with us.”
“We will co-locate because to form a community, you need a place to be,” adds Hans. “But many of the activities will take place at the location of the company. On location, companies have gotten used to their daily worries and don’t see them anymore. If somebody looks at the production process with fresh eyes, he or she will find things to improve. A student thinks outside the box because a student is not yet in a box.”
Kees nods his head. “A student has the disadvantage that he’s young and the advantage that he’s young.”
TNO, VDL, VBTI and:
Bodec, Cordis, Siemens, Alten, K3D, Brom, HAN, TSG, Hoppenbrouwers, Contour, TU/e, VDL projects, Inther, Vincitech, CMS, Wemo, Alten, Siemens, Alumero, VDL-ETG/ MTA/, Nexperia, ASML, Prodrive/ Neways, MI Partners, IBS Precision, VDL-Fibertech