Region of Smart Factories

The Northern Netherlands as a home of Smart Factories
The manufacturing industry is on the verge of a new era. In Germany, the world’s strongest industrial nation, this is even being referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 (known in the Netherlands as Smart Industry) stands for the mass digitization of industry. Products are becoming intelligent, consumers and companies will be continuously in touch with each other via the Internet (allowing manufacturers to offer new services) and new information technology (‘Big Data’) will render factories much more efficient and flexible. In Smart Industry, experts recognize opportunities to restore the competitive position of the manufacturing industry in regions with relatively high labor market costs, such as the Netherlands. This will result in Smart Industry providing many new jobs in industry.

Due to the presence of vast know-how in the field of new ICT (at Astron and the RUG, among others) in combination with world players such as Philips and Fokker, the Northern Ntehrlands has the potential to become the home of technology for Smart Industries. The Northern Ntehrlands already has a considerable track record in this sense, via the successful Smart Factory project at Fokker for example, and the pioneering European Magafit, managed by Philips in Drachten.

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One of the flagship projects of HTSM North is the “Region of Smart Factories” (RoSF) in which 25 companies (large and small) and knowledge institutes jointly conduct research into new technologies for the “Faultless factory.” RoSF recently acquired Field lab status on the national Smart Industry action agenda of the Dezentjé Committee.

Theme driver of the HTSM Northern Netherlands Task Force is Rob Karsmakers of Philips in Drachten


Innovation project: Region of Smart Factories

The Manufacturing industry, the cork which keeps the Northern economy afloat, is on the verge of far-reaching changes. The key word is digitization: products are becoming intelligent, processes are ‘correcting themselves’ and all players involved in the manufacturing industry (consumers, companies, suppliers) will become interconnected via the Internet of Things, enabling them to continuously share information. The most significant effects of Industry 4.0 are undoubtedly the possibility of manufacturing customer-specific products, of bringing production work back to high wage-cost regions (and therefore retrieving work previously contracted out) and of deploying new, more attractive earning models: from one-off manufacturer to permanent service provider.

Industry 4.0 comes at an interesting time for the Northern Netherlands. The North holds a number of trump cards required in order to optimally profit from the changes which will take place in the manufacturing industry: know-how of Big Data, ICT and sensor systems, a striking amount of know-how of materials technology (essential in order to switch to intelligent factories) and the region still has a true manufacturing industry which, although under pressure, still has sufficient body to benefit from the revaluation of the manufacturing industry. By now, everyone is convinced that our level of prosperity cannot be sufficiently buoyed on the basis of the services sector or knowledge economy alone. On the other hand, the North really needs Industry 4.0. The manufacturing industry is and will always be by far the largest employer in the region, while also catering to all levels of education (from intermediate vocational to university level). Industry 4.0 offers an ideal opportunity to retrieve work and to prevent existing work being contracted out to low-wage regions.

The Northern Netherlands is to be developed into the home of Smart Factories, thereby laying the foundations for a strong manufacturing industry. That is the aim of the RoSF (Region of Smart Factories) consortium. This consortium was established around the three main OEM companies (Philips, Fokker and TenCate) but has since grown into a group of thirty partners (comprising large and small companies, knowledge institutes and the complete educational field). It represents all competences required in order to experiment with Industry 4.0 concepts. The new connection between the Big Data community and the large OEMs is of particular strategic importance.

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The RoSF cluster is mainly aimed at the operational processes of Industry 4.0 and especially the two major challenges facing the Smart Factory, namely:

  • With regard to product development: taking the step of ‘trial & error’ (via many years of expensive maturation processes) to the ‘first time right’ design of products and production processes, mainly through conversion of experience into mathematical models (‘model-based’).
  • With regard to manufacture: from ‘casting everything in concrete’ or ‘selling no’ to flexible manufacturing companies which can cope with ‘everything’, mainly through the use of autonomously learning and self-steering production and assembly processes.

The RoSF program is especially based on learning by doing. The foundations of Smart Factories are first reinforced via a scientific program, after which various company clusters will develop and implement new technology in three pilot projects:

  • Smart Production Lines, aimed at development of faultless (i.e. 100% predictable) production processes, by rendering them autonomously learning and self-steering, with applications at Philips, Fokker and Plantronics.
  • Design for Smart Factory: aimed at optimization of know-how, by making knowledge reusable in dynamic models for example and through integration of models in order that the appropriate choices can be made at a high aggregation level. This would concern applications at Centraal Staal, TenCate, in shipbuilding (NCG) and at Philips.
  • Customized manufacturing: aimed at enablement of customized production focused on in-line measuring technology, applied in the manufacture of lenses (NKF and Opthec), coated textiles (TenCate) and the manufacture of sails (Molenaar).


The second mainstay of the program is aimed at business development (valorization of know-how). The SME partners have compiled two toolboxes under the motto of ‘Make your factory a Smart Factory’. One of the toolboxes aims at rendering existing processes at manufacturing companies autonomously learning (and therefore faultless) while the purpose of the second toolbox is to optimize existing design processes on the basis of Smart Factory concepts. The target is to deploy these toolboxes in order to conduct 10 demonstration projects, strategically distributed between various sectors and among regions.

The ambition of the RoSF consortium is to develop the region into an internationally recognized home of Smart Factories. Various activities will be established against that background, in order to share know-how and experience and to promote the region, for example. There will be cooperation with educational institutions to develop a new, broad curriculum in order to prepare students for the Industry 4.0 era, at all levels of education.


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