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Industry meets University through High Tech Systems Center

As a German, striving for excellence is in my blood. When I began setting up High Tech Systems Center (HTSC) at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in 2014, together with Professor Maarten Steinbuch, I felt at home immediately. TU/e also strives for excellence. But despite the match in our ambitions, I felt a bit lonely at first due to a lack of focus of my environment on culture and values. I was mainly concerned with content and describing processes. Then I turned this situation around and took more ownership. I invited myself to propose other ways of working, and to discuss interesting developments within HTSC. My initiatives and ideas were warmly welcomed. This enhanced the cooperation with TU/e and put HTSC on the map.

Adaptable and agile

The industry has a big demand for highly educated people from TU/e. Departments are educating undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students, often in a monodisciplinary setting. There are a lot of smart people around a university, but in order to better serve the industry in multidisciplinary research questions, we need people who are not only strong in terms of hard skills, but are also adaptable and agile. This is where HTSC steps in. HTSC is a research center and sets up multidisciplinary, long-term research programs for next-generation machines. Alongside that, the Center acts as single point of entry where industry can bring fundamental mechatronic questions. We are the link between fundamental research and industry. We organize co-location, where people from different disciplines meet in order to accelerate innovations.

Innovations occur at intersections

As managing director of HTSC, my biggest challenge in the beginning was the internal organization of the university. The academic staff want to keep the ‘freedom of academic research’, and our goal is to translate industrial needs into interesting and challenging research questions. A professor aims for recognition of his or her research field and expertise, whereas we go for long-term roadmaps in line with the industrial ecosystem. This slight difference in motivations can be sometimes be a barrier, but it can be overcome by agreeing and setting common goals. By attracting people from the industry – so-called fellows – we additionally implement system thinking into our programs. These fellows are in contact with PhDs and professors, and they understand the dynamics of the industry. I believe that breakthrough innovations are reached by creating a setting where different disciplines can intersect. 

"Being successful depends on people and culture, and on ‘adding color’. We do not always color inside the lines, but take ownership and show entrepreneurship – always with respect to the other party."

Color outside the lines

My role as Director of HTSC is additional to my position at TMC, where I am Cell Director for Technology Executives. My daily work and my passion is to bring disciplines together on a higher level within an organization. This makes me quite unique within TMC, and my skills are also of added value for TU/e. In my working career, I have often been a linking pin between two organizations, bringing them together as partners. My assignment is to realize cooperation between industry and TU/e. I am very satisfied with what we have achieved so far. We have grown into a recognizable research center with funding from the market and, at this moment, employ about 70 PhDs in high tech systems development. We organize a lot of events on the University’s campus, bringing the academic and industrial world together. Being successful depends on people and culture, and on ‘adding color’. We do not always color inside the lines, but take ownership and show entrepreneurship – always with respect to the other party. Today, the internal organization is changing – our colleagues are eager to participate and put energy into common research, which is a big part of our success. Industry leaders are also embracing this collaboration and saying we should have started 10 years earlier. 

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