TNO covers a large part of the development process of complex B2B technology and products, from research and design to the delivery of a working demonstrator. However, the applications are often not yet ready for the market. Sometimes it takes years of investment from the industry. Companies often find the risks too great, so that the innovation opportunities are not exploited. TNO is therefore now going one step further, up to and including industrialization. ‘In this way, we are helping Dutch high technology to strengthen its international frontrunner position and increase our country’s earning capacity.’
– ‘Bringing technology to maturity is a long process that individual companies shy away from.’
Businesses need help to break free from the commodity magnet.
– Circular design and production technologies will quickly become more important in the coming years.
– ‘We continuously monitor the added value of programs for society.’
Show that it works and can be mass-produced
In the exhibition room on the ground floor of the TNO building in Delft, a system has been set up with which a mirror of European extremely large telescope (E-ELT) can be controlled. This is the so-called demonstrator of the device, which was developed several years ago by market participants such as VDL† The TNO demonstrated that the high-quality motion control technology it contains works properly. 798 units of the system were to be produced. Because the telescope’s dish counts the number of mirrors, each of which can be controlled separately, so that the stargazer can be aimed precisely at the desired part of the universe. However, VDL had to find out for itself how the system could best – in this case most cost-effectively – be produced in a small series. And TNO will change that, he says Mark Courage†
Up to TRL 9
Courage has been director of smart industry at the knowledge institution since the beginning of this year, after a long career in an engineering company and system integrator Bilfinger Tebodin, where he has realized industrial projects for various markets at home and abroad as a project and rope holder. He was already familiar with TNO, among other things from a project that aimed to develop an installation to convert CO2 to a raw material for sustainable aviation fuel. A project in an early stage of development, at TRL (Technological readiness level) The TNO covers a large part of the development spectrum, up to and including TRL 9 (proof of concept), where a properly functioning demonstrator or pilot plant is provided. ‘TNO’, explains Courage, ‘plays the leading role in the process of what we call orchestration of innovation: we bring together a number of market participants who share a similar problem. Then we take the first steps. The risk that we will ultimately not be able to solve the problem of not having a functioning system lies largely with the TNO. In this way, we help Dutch industry take innovation steps that they themselves would find too risky or where the necessary expertise is lacking. ‘
Experience with field laboratories
TNO has built up the necessary experience in Smart Industry field labs with orchestration of innovation. The most successful is the Smart Connected Supplier Network. ‘Different companies in the Brainport region had the same problems with the transfer of ERP data to chain partners. Within the collaboration with that field laboratory, there was sufficient strength to reach a new, open communication standard. It took TNO to get things going. ‘ Another field laboratory, SAM | XL (Smart Advanced Manufacturing, ed.), Is developing a robot scanner that can ultrasonically check large metal surfaces for hair borders without destruction. ‘This development could be of interest to the aerospace industry, for the maintenance of the installed base. But also for machine builders who can thereby expand their product portfolio. But bringing this technology to maturity is still a long process from which individual companies are rapidly receding. ‘
‘TNO plays the leading role in orchestrating innovation’
Investment in the coming years
Because with a working demonstrator or a test setup in hand, commercial parties are far from reaching the moment when the technology can be launched on the market and revenue can be generated with it. ‘The test setup obviously gives a good, inspiring picture of how it works. But the company that wants to commercialize the technology or product sometimes has to invest money in it for a few more years. Often there are already interested customers, but they will only buy on condition that the system is ten times cheaper than the demonstrator. ‘ This requires value development, re-engineering and the willingness to take the risk that the cost reduction will not be successful. Meanwhile, the entrepreneur TNO is paying licensing costs for product and technology development. “For all these reasons, entrepreneurs often refrain from implementing new innovations on TRL 7 and 8. As a result, innovation opportunities are missed. Opportunities with which Dutch high technology could possibly have strengthened its international frontrunner position. And the Dutch earning capacity could have been increased. Not only with the industrialization and marketing of the technology or products, but also with their production, in highly digitalized, future-proof factories. ‘
Billion dollar market
‘We are currently developing laser satellite communications systems with more companies,’ continues Courage, offering a solution to the growing demand for more and faster data traffic needed for the Internet of Things. It can be up to ten times faster than current data transfer rates, good for one terabyte of data per second or streaming 200,000 Netflix movies in HD quality simultaneously. In this project, we want to go further and in addition to providing the demonstrators also deliver a technology that will cost-effectively high mixing, low volume, low defects can be produced. Of course, the fees for, for example, licenses to TNO for the entrepreneur will be higher. But the risk for the parties that will market the protesters will be less. An additional advantage is that the industry’s innovative power and earning capacity can be increased more quickly in this way. A market of more than one billion euros a year may be on the way for this laser satellite communications technology from 2030. ‘
the raw material magnet
Businesses need help to get rid of the ‘goods magnet’, Courage concludes. “Initially, an innovative product can be sold at a huge profit. Until the competition has caught up. Due to the brand value that has been built up, you can then take a slightly higher price, but in the end you only compete on the price. In order not to end up in this negative spiral, our industry must constantly innovate. The Netherlands once had a head start in wind energy. However, because the payback times were too long and thus the risks to business too great, other countries have taken the leading position. To prevent this in the future, TNO wants to play a greater role in the development of production technology. ‘
Sustainability and digitalisation
Courage notes that it is not just about making money. Sustainability is another, equally important, goal. For too long, plastic has been a cheap material because its climate footprint was not included in the cost price. The European Green Agreement and the National Climate Agreement will put an end to this, and therefore circular materials and design and production technologies will quickly become more important in the coming years. However, that battle cannot be won without digitization. ‘To create the digital twin of the production plant and one product pass of the final product. Because with it you can completely digitally decide how you can change the life cycle of the product and the materials processed in it – design for disassembly Continuously improve and expand. But also to be able to monitor and control all return flows. And for a smart grid to work, supply and demand for electricity and heat are always matched. ‘
In addition, Courage also mentions security of supply and human resources – and the lack thereof – as key themes. ‘The robots will play an increasingly important role in the factories of the future. That is why we at TNO work with software that will make programming robots much easier. But these smart factories also need to be able to manage their supply properly by using data from their entire global supply chain. Then it does not matter if a boat is stuck in the Suez Canal, or if ports somewhere are closed due to a pandemic. This requires a lot of data to be shared, but in a secure way. TNO is also involved in research into this. ‘
In short, major social issues that the TNO wants to help solve, in coordination with European peer institutes, to prevent the wheel from being reinvented more than once. Dutch industry must and can play an important role in the development of these solutions. To this end, the TNO wants to expand its TRL scope and even go a step further. TNO works in a wide range of demand-driven applications, such as smart industry, semiconductor equipment, sustainable construction, wind energy and the circular economy. “Our Strategic Analysis & Policy Unit continuously monitors the added value of the work within these programs for society on the basis of a large number of KPIs. This is how we formulate a strategy for Dutch industry. And we arrive at the themes that our industry must primarily focus on in order to create the most social value – sustainability, profit, employment. ‘
TNO White Paper on Product Passports, Essential for the Circular Economy
The demand for sustainability is greater than ever and is being further strengthened as the war in Ukraine jeopardizes the supply of raw materials such as oil, gas and metal. At the same time, companies are also increasingly being held accountable for their CO2footprints from governments, banks and other stakeholders. This development makes a circular economy inevitable. Here, the product passport can play a crucial role. In this passport, companies digitally record the composition and technical data of their products from A to Z. ‘The time has come for a new, digital industrial revolution’, says content expert Elmer Rietveld in the white paper ‘Inventory of product passports 2021’ (March 2022).