Tom Cassauwers
13 December 2023

As an independent foundation at the heart of Eindhoven’s high-tech supply chain, Mikrocentrum’s main concern is sharing information. For them, high-tech companies such as ASML can only push the boundaries of what’s possible when they’re in close touch with the ecosystem around them. Events and courses can help them do that.

That Mikrocentrum has a tight relationship with ASML is probably an understatement. The two organizations grew up together. “Today, we literally live between ASML’s buildings,” says Frank Bruls, training manager at Mikrocentrum. “When I walk down the corridor, I see four new towers being built, where soon 4,000 ASML employees will be working. But we’ve known ASML from its very humble beginnings. We were already in Philips’ network forty years ago.”

Mikrocentrum is an independent foundation that serves the high-tech ecosystem around Eindhoven. One of their most important jobs is to make sure knowledge circulates between companies like ASML and the players around them. Which they do in different ways.

“Our work rests on three pillars,” explains Bruls. “The first is events. We organize large and small conferences, in addition to knowledge events such as tech cafés. The second pillar is our high-tech platform, where we connect some 550 companies from the Dutch and Belgian manufacturing industries. The third pillar is the courses and training department. Last year, we offered around 120 titles and served 7,500 course participants. We do that for the entire Dutch high-tech manufacturing industry. ASML is an important client, but we don’t depend just on them.”

Still, Mikrocentrum has a close collaboration with ASML to fill the latter’s knowledge needs. “Over the last fifteen years, our cooperation has become very intense,” Bruls observes. “In recent years, we’ve developed ten courses together because ASML felt this need within the company and supply chain. We also organize the Precision Fair, the largest conference on precision technology in the Benelux. It unites the entire ecosystem of companies that manufacture at high precision levels. Which is of course what ASML is all about. They learn from each other and work together. There you can clearly see the importance of the knowledge sharing we try to facilitate.”

Bits&Chips event sponsor registration-early bird

Boundaries of the possible

At the moment, Mikrocentrum hosts several courses it developed together with ASML. One of those aims to change the company’s relationship with its manufacturing base. “The distance between product developer and manufacturer has been getting larger in recent years,” Bruls points out. “That causes problems because product developers sometimes design things that aren’t manufacturable. ASML wants developers to learn more about manufacturing techniques. They want them to know what’s manufacturable and measurable, and what it would cost. In this course, we go into various manufacturing elements such as turning, milling, sparking and sheet metal connections.”

These courses, however, aren’t just reserved for the employees of ASML. Frequently, the company opens them up to spread knowledge in its supply chain. “For some of ASML’s courses, half of the participants come from the supply chain,” says Bruls. “ASML allowed that. Which is a unique project. We make the chain physically come together during the course. That ensures that they engage in discussions and learn how to complement each other better. These interactions take the quality of the supply chain to a higher level. ASML opened its gates as it were. Only by sharing knowledge can we push the boundaries of what’s technically possible.”

Events hosted by Mikrocentrum fulfill a similar goal of circulating information within the Eindhoven ecosystem. “We organize an annual clean event,” Bruls illustrates. “There we look at contamination control. Parts for ASML have to be produced in very clean environments, with fewer and fewer airborne particles. Sometimes this reaches the limits of what’s technically possible. Only by sharing knowledge between ASML and suppliers can you achieve that at a high level. The other day, we hosted a tech café on clean where 175 people came and talked to each other. By doing that, they discover the boundaries of the possible and impossible.”

Additionally, Mikrocentrum also works together with ASML inside the Knowledge Sharing Centre (KSC), which organizes the yearly Manufacturing Technology Conference (MTC).

Bachelor level

Courses can also compensate for weaknesses in the ecosystem. Manufacturing, for example, has a dire need for trained staff around Eindhoven. A need Mikrocentrum is trying to fill. “The machines also have to be made,” notes Bruls. “Which is why we’re establishing more and more contacts with manufacturing. They need trained people, and we’re trying to supply those.”

Together with Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Mikrocentrum set up a program for manufacturing engineers. “The pilot project trained 14 manufacturing engineers from ASML,” says Bruls. “One of their wishes was for this to become a certified program at the bachelor level, in which we succeeded. A few weeks ago, we awarded the first micro-credentials to the ASML graduates. The factory directors were very pleased. The next step is to open up the program to the supply chain as well.”

Clubhouse

Lecturers are key nodes in Mikrocentrum’s model. In general, they’re experts from companies inside the ecosystem, allowing different players to learn from each other. “Our freelance lecturers all come from the network,” Bruls indicates. “We have lecturers from VDL, Philips and small specialist companies in ASML’s chain. We also have lecturers from ASML itself. They encourage this so they can take the supply chain up a level.”

Of course, some information can’t be shared. Within the bounds of confidentiality, however, ASML is a proponent of information exchange. “Everything confidential remains within ASML’s walls,” Bruls says. “But whenever something can help the supply chain, they’re enthusiastic proponents of sharing it.”

For Mikrocentrum, the significance of its work goes beyond just organizing courses and events. It sees itself as a meeting place inside Eindhoven’s high-tech ecosystem. “We’re kind of the clubhouse of high tech,” states Bruls. “We have beautiful premises a stone’s throw away from the ASML buildings. All onboarding of ASML employees, for example, takes place at our premises. Our facilities closely match ASML’s needs.”

In the meantime, Mikrocentrum is looking forward because technology is ever-changing. “A big part of our job is following the technology,” says Bruls. “As soon as we have an update, we start looking for a specialist in our network and get in touch with ASML to develop a program. This can range from a new law or directive to novel knowledge needed in the chain. Every day we try to push what’s possible.”

This article was written in close collaboration with Mikrocentrum.