Autumn 2010

Innovation helps make a difference

The Netherlands will have to continue to invest in innovation, if it is to safeguard its economic growth, retain its prosperity and keep ahead of the competition. Open innovation makes it possible to seize rapidly on changes in the market and to retain competitiveness. The Dutch knowledge economy must be strengthened and efforts in this field touch the cornerstones of the TenCate business model. Technological innovation is a fact of life for TenCate and one of its policy cornerstones.

In times of recession many entrepreneurs put product development on the back-burner or remove innovation from their strategy. Colleges and universities deliver suitable young people, but too few to give shape to innovation. Knowledge and know-how often disappear abroad. In the Netherlands there is excellent scientific research taking place, but not enough valorization (capitalizing knowledge) in improved and new products. The Dutch government established the Innovation Platform in 2003, but has not yet made any choices. There are grant schemes and credits for R&D, but regulations are tough and resources are deployed in a fragmented way in financing instruments (subsidies and credits). So companies, researchers, education and government generally fail in their duty. Collectively, these four can play an important role in strengthening Dutch competitiveness and dynamism.

How can the Netherlands emerge from the crisis stronger?
Innovation is one of the drivers to strengthen competitiveness and is the only way to withstand a recession. In addition, technological innovation is the anchor towards the future. Industry must concentrate on added value based on high-tech developments. Only by strengthening innovative ability and competitiveness can objectives be achieved that are relevant to the economy and to society in such areas as energy, climate change, water management, sustainability and mobility. ‘If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got’, to quote Ron Nuwenhof (senior project manager, Development & Innovation of Oost NV, the Development Company for the Eastern Netherlands).

  Ron Nuwenhof (Oost NV)

‘If manufacturing industry does not innovate, it will always remain manufacturing industry. In this way it will continue to adopt an attitude of dependency on customers such as OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and OMMs (original materials manufacturers).’ TenCate developed the strategic framework of value chain management as an instrument to allow technological skills to generate a higher return and to focus on value creation within the production chain. This is why Ron Nuwenhof praised TenCate’s initiatives and efforts in the field of open innovation. TenCate is indeed an international company, but is working closely in its birthplace Twente with other technological companies.

Production of composite materials at TenCate Advanced Armour

What is the strength of the Netherlands and in what way is it exceptional?
The Netherlands has a name to keep up in the economic field. The country has an open economy and a strong knowledge infrastructure, both in fundamental and applied research. At universities a great deal of knowledge is available in the fields of mobility (Eindhoven), water management (Delft), environmental technology and materials (Twente).
By conducting research for government, industry and social institutes, knowledge institutes make their knowledge usable. They serve thus as centres for technological knowledge and development. The ability to generate knowledge and to apply it is essential for innovation. Knowledge represents both power and competitiveness. For innovation, (fundamental) research and training must be promoted, based on key objectives such as nanotechnology and materials science. Cooperation between institutes for applied research, industry and government must be intensified, which will lead to a strengthening of the applied-knowledge infrastructure. This will ensure that the combined knowledge is capitalized. Studies have shown that government investments in applied research have immediate positive consequences for the entire Dutch economy. 

TenCate operates in the field of materials science. For TenCate the University of Twente and the TU Delft are important knowledge partners, and cooperation is taking place with these universities in a range of areas, including research projects with composite materials

What is the role of education and government?
In the context of end-user marketing, the government can act as a launching customer in the purchase of materials (defence and infrastructure) and by encouraging pilots in the field of sustainability (construction, energy saving and water management). Allowing the Netherlands to ‘act’ as an experimental field will enable companies to perform well in foreign markets too. The IJkdijk project is an example of this. And it does not always have to involve more money, but rather using available budgets in a more targeted way. When you put money into knowledge and technological innovation there are no ‘costs’, but investments in sustainable economic growth. With government financing instruments it is vital to reach decisions rapidly and efficiently; less complicated legislation, regulations and standardization are required. Companies can incur lower costs when starting up new activities through standardization (NEN, ISO) and deregulation. Entrepreneurs also benefit from flexibilization of the labour market and the designation of technological experimental fields. They need space both literally and figuratively to be entrpreneurial, to make better use of knowledge and to innovate.

Digital inkjet technology (Xennia Technology) on a nanoscale is a promising technology

Which are the sectors with bright prospects?
The Innovation Platform Nederland intends to build up a competitive edge by developing strong positions so as to excel on a global scale. The Dutch government must direct its innovation policy towards promising companies and sectors – both existing and new. Examples include biotechnology, ICT, nanotechnology and sustainable energy. TenCate with Xennia Technology and Xennia Holland possesses knowledge of digital inkjet technology on a nanoscale. This is a promising technology, which is suitable for many different applications and provides environmental benefits. Inkjet technology does not only include the interaction between ink fluid, substrates and inkjet heads but also has such underlying disciplines as chemistry, physics, optics, mechatronics and software. Inkjet print technology is emerging for both mass and personalized production. Innovative applications are created in combination to produce mass customization. Open innovation plays a major role in this.

Building aeroplanes at Boeing

How can the strengths of the Netherlands be mobilized?
Companies that seek other companies in order to invest jointly in the R of R&D must, if requested, be able to be guided. In the year 2010 after all you can no longer only rely on your own knowledge and research. The forming of networks (development consortia), in which companies and knowledge institutes find each other – open innovation – must be permanently encouraged. TenCate has been doing this for a number of years (TAPAS and TPRC) and acts here as chain director. Building up a complex network with an entire chain enables enormous added value to be generated. In an open innovation centre, companies, government, research and educational institutes get together in a physical location. They share their knowledge and expertise. They inspire each other in the development and introduction of new technologies and products. When it comes to survival, growth curve, result and employment, they often perform better than other types of enterprise. This also applies to the spin-off companies.

One of the examples of promising sectors is sustainable energy, like wind energy

What is the importance of open innovation?
‘Open innovation is becoming increasingly important’, Ron Nuwenhof believes. ‘It enables you to react rapidly to changes in the market and, despite the ever-shorter time-to-market, remain competitive.’ Many Dutch managers and entrepreneurs do not, in his opinion, look beyond the boundaries of their own core activities. They don’t realize that it is precisely innovation that encourages the performance, growth and value of their company. ‘If you can’t share, you can’t grow. The significance of open innovation for their company is often still unclear to them. And yet I’m increasingly seeing initiatives being created around companies that want to innovate jointly in an open environment.’

Blue fabric (Tecawork Blue 65287)