The Belgian King Philippe I and his wife, Queen Mathilde will visiting the High Tech Campus Eindhoven on Wednesday 30 November as part of a three-day state visit to the Netherlands. The visit draws attention to the close political, cultural and economic ties the Netherlands shares with its neighbour. The Brainport region and Belgium have a close relationship in varied areas, however the common denominators are innovation, design and (manufacturing) industry.
The Belgian king will be visiting Holst Centre at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, a research institute that is perhaps the most striking example of open innovation collaboration between the Netherlands and Belgium. The Holst Centre was founded about ten years ago by the Leuven-based centre for nano-electronics, Imec, and TNO. The research institute has played a leading role for a number of years in the field of flexible electronics and wireless sensor technology. Discussions on the 30th of November will centre on how both countries can increasingly benefit from each other’s innovative capacity.
MANUFACTURING AS A CONNECTOR
Another area in which there is a connection is in the high-tech manufacturing sector. According to John Blankendaal, director of Brainport Industries, the proximity of Belgium plays a considerable role in this. “Actually, it is quite logical that we should collaborate. Many important research centres, high-tech companies and fieldlabs are within an hour’s drive of each other. It would be rather odd if each of us should have to reinvent the wheel separately when we’re so close to each other.”
The Brainport region and its many partners have taken the lead within the Netherlands to get these collaborative ventures off the ground. Blankendaal: “Pulling together is important. The Belgians are ambitious when it comes to advanced manufacturing. Moreover, industrial 3D printing is quite normal there. We can still learn a lot from each other, for instance in terms of the Factory of the Future. Discussions are ongoing about bringing companies even closer together.”
COLLABORATION IN EUROPE
Belgium and the Netherlands have been collaborating for years of course. A great example is the European programme for the border region, Interreg Flanders-Netherlands, for example, that has produced successful projects like the Flemish-Dutch Crossroads project. Brainport plays a connecting role in this cross-border collaboration involving promising innovation projects. Thanks to this collaboration many real (product) innovations have already been realised.
In addition, the Netherlands, Wallonia and Flanders are pulling together in the ‘Vanguard Initiative’. This political collaborative partnership among European regions aims to boost the competitiveness of European manufacturing industry. This initiative was launched by Flanders in 2013 and had ten members, including southern Netherlands, when it began. Now it encompasses thirty regions from all over Europe united in the ‘Vanguard Initiative’ and is the talk of the town in EU circles.
CROSS-FERTILISATION WITH LIVING LABS
Eindhoven is keen to present itself as a smart city; or rather, a smart society. Belgian cities also see this as both a challenge and an opportunity. The idea of a smart society is to connect societal and technological solutions together so that the lives of residents can be made more comfortable. Initiatives in this area can be seen on both sides of the border.
“An example of future collaboration with Belgium is the Living Lab project at Stratumseind in Eindhoven,” explains Guus Sluijter of the Tilburg and Eindhoven based Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety & Security (DITSS). “The technology developed there for safe nightlife streets will also be trialled in Hasselt and Antwerp. Furthermore, there is a collaboration project for security in the ports of Terneuzen, Moerdijk, Gent and Ostend in the pipeline.” In the framework of this Belgian-Dutch collaboration, DITSS will be signing a covenant with a new Belgian sister organisation on the first day of the state visit.
In short, there are plenty of reasons for the Belgian Royals to travel to Eindhoven. Brainport certainly seems to be playing a key role in strengthening ties in the area of innovation and R&D between the Netherlands and Belgium in the foreseeable future.