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Taking leaps by joining forces

Officially, Katja Pahnke is Director of TMC Technology Executives and Managing Director of AMSYSTEMS, representing the TU/e in this successful cooperation between TNO and the TU/e High Tech Systems Center. Explaining the latter role, she quickly comes up with another, unofficial, job title: Master of Ceremonies for a dream marriage. As Managing Director, Katja is always looking for new ways to combine the best of both organizations - an exciting marriage of science and industry. ‘Sometimes, you can just feel the creativity and inventive solutions buzzing around. It’s an absolute privilege to be part of that process.’

'Pharma printing'

Since 2017, AMSYSTEMS has its co-location at Eindhoven University’s Campus. At the AMSYSTEMS Center, more than sixty scientists and engineers strive to accelerate AM (additive manufacturing) in all kinds of industries. One of AMSYSTEMS’ goals is searching for new developments and solutions in ‘Pharma printing’: the creation of pharmaceutical products, like tablets, through 3D printers. ‘It’s a highly efficient way to manufacture all kinds of complicated, fully customized products’, Katja explains. ‘Let’s say someone would need a very specific dosage of a certain medicine, a unique balance of several substances. Our applications would make it much easier to create - and adjust the dosage of - such tablets.’

But AMSYSTEMS also is at the forefront in other applications of additive technologies: for instance in 3D-printing delicate materials like ceramics or a specific piece of plastic. Or, to name another of AMSYSTEM’s strengths: using 3D printers to add components to not-yet-fully completed industrial products. ‘There are so many exciting possibilities in our field’, says Katja. ‘3D printing is growing more advanced by the week - step by step wouldn’t be the right description, it’s more a leap by leap-type of growth. And we are always looking for the next leap, the demands and ideas of the next generation.’

A matchmaker by nature

A while ago, Katja realized the technological field was ready for a new way of thinking - needed a new way of thinking, in fact, to fulfill even more of its great promises. ‘Before I joined TMC, I’ve worked at TNO for seven years, in several roles, so I know and understand the culture of the organization. I’m very much at home in applied research in general - the type of research in which TNO always has excelled at: applying its great wealth of knowledge to answer questions from the industry, or a certain need in the market.’

But, being a matchmaker by nature, Katja also saw the great potential for growth if  applied research could somehow be combined with a more traditional scientific approach: ‘The type of research that takes place at universities. Fundamental research, more aimed at knowledge for knowledge’s sake, so to speak. One of the ongoing challenges of a cooperation like ours, between applied and fundamental research is: how can we match these different cultures, these different ways of thinking? How can we combine our strengths to offer broader, more powerful propositions?’

For one thing, by focusing on the opportunities the match offers: the possibility to benefit from each other’s knowledge, research locations, equipment, and earlier results. ‘You also have to be flexible, have to give the other organization the space it needs to properly function. Trust me: a lot of potentially successful cooperations can be undermined by haggling over terms and contracts.’ In the dream marriage, Katja represents Eindhoven University of Technology. Luckily, her counterpart at TNO fully shares her flexible, pragmatic, enthusiastic view of the match - as well as her ambitions: becoming the leading European innovation center for the development of system concepts and advanced equipment for various industrial applications. ‘I’m fully confident we can get there’, Katja says, ‘we’re well on our way. But seeing all these highly serious engineers and scientists inspiring each other, just having fun together - that already is a huge reward in itself.’

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