Three years of the AMSYSTEMS Center: prospects and reflections

Since 2016, the AMSYSTEMS Center has grown into a complex ecosystem connecting industry and academia in the Netherlands and beyond. The four application focuses – Food, Pharma, Industrial Additive Manufacturing and Structural Electronics – have developed organically, reacting to new innovations while remaining attuned to the diverse needs of parties involved. Katja Pahnke (TU/e) and Pieter Debrauwer (TNO) share their thoughts.

A constant evolution

The applications move in different directions due to their
maturity levels. “Industrial Additive Manufacturing is a growing business and, in addition to the established players, new companies are emerging on this topic,” says Pieter, Managing Director of the AMSYSTEMS Center. “This is the right time to transfer much of our expertise, knowledge and patents to the market domain.” AMSYSTEMS remains at the forefront of Food and Pharma printing, in which changes are occurring rapidly and technological investments are needed to reach the next phase of innovations. Structural Electronics, meanwhile, finds itself in a ‘middle-ground’: some of the basic technologies are mature but they are now being combined in ways that are wholly original. This application will be accelerated by embedding it in Holst Centre, which is a leader in the domain of flexible electronics.

Creating an ecosystem
As Managing Director on behalf of TU/e, Katja is also no stranger to industry. “I worked for seven years at TNO in the past, so I know a lot of the people and the culture there. When you know each other, you know the way of working that fits.” A common culture benefits everyone. TNO and its network can translate business needs into research questions at the university. In turn, the academic freedom to explore alternative or emerging ideas is a vital source of innovations that

 

“We’re not only doing nice technical innovations but also developments that have societal impact,”

Pieter Debrauwer

boost industry. Katja also notes that scientists from TNO are taking part-time roles as assistant professors at TU/e and that this co-location has helped with both community building and mutual learning. Pieter agrees: “Most innovation starts at the coffee corner and, if you have an issue, that’s where you run into somebody who knows something about it.”

 

Taking an interdisciplinary approach

One strength of the AMSYSTEMS Center has always been its unique combination of fundamental and applied research. The focus areas intersect heavily on a fundamental level but develop uniquely when applied. Katja: “That is also a kind of role distribution – we at TU/e are looking more to the fundamental questions and TNO more to the applied science.” Students are able to investigate a topic to a great depth over a period of years, while applied projects are usually focused on completing tasks for a client within six months. AMSYSTEMS Center’s culture of cooperation turns these differing timeframes into golden opportunities for students, PDEng trainees and PhD candidates. T-shaped engineers, who have highly detailed knowledge in one area, bring about huge innovations precisely because they have interdisciplinary backgrounds forged through short-term collaborations with industry.

 

Looking forward

For Pieter and Katja, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming years. “I really enjoy seeing new equipment being developed,” says Pieter. “On the Food and Pharma side, we’re looking, for example, at how we can make pills for groups in which the patient population is small and it’s difficult to make medicine cost-effectively. We’re not only doing nice technical innovations but also developments that have societal impact.” Katja adds to this: “It’s a really unique ecosystem that we have in this region. We’re focusing on the areas that we’re excellent in but are adaptable enough to understand when something is mature or would be better off elsewhere – always striving for excellence.”

“We’re focusing on the areas that we’re excellent in but are adaptable enough to understand when something is mature or would be better off elsewhere.”

Katja Pahnke