Marcel Slot (Frencken) concerned about safeguarding Dutch mechatronics strength, ‘it mainly leans on ASML.


Mechatronics is of paramount importance at Frencken. According to Marcel Slot, vice president at Frencken Mechatronics, this is an area in which the Netherlands can continue to distinguish itself in the future. Yet he is concerned, because the developments were and still are driven by a limited number of high-tech companies. When we talk about key technologies in the Netherlands, Slot believes we should not only focus on the technologies themselves, but also on the question: what are we going to do with it?

Frencken has had a new head office at Dillenburgstraat in Eindhoven for a year and a half now. The façade carries large letters that say: Frencken Mechatronics. It will therefore come as no surprise that the company is happy that outgoing minister Micky Adriaansens has included mechatronics her list of ten key technologies to which the Netherlands will give priority in the coming years (see box). ‘As far as we are concerned, that’s completely justified’, says Slot. ‘Because that’s what many successful high-tech machine builders in the Netherlands are great at, in terms of economic size, jobs and exports. Together with the entire supply chain, the Netherlands excels in advanced mechatronics.’

Frencken Mechatronics is by far the largest division within the Frencken Group, which is listed on the Singapore stock exchange. In 2023, the division accounted for more than 80 percent of sales. Approximately 780 of the 1,800 employees worldwide are accommodated at the European branch, spread across branches in Eindhoven and Reuver. ‘More than a hundred people joined last year’, says Slot. ‘We have been growing very fast for years. I’m talking about an average turnover growth of about 15 percent per year.’ In 2023, Frencken Mechatronics’ growth in Europe was as high as 33 percent.

From 44 to 10

In addition to mechatronics, Slot sees even more similarities between Adriaansens’ list of key technologies and Frencken’s activities. ‘We also do a lot for customers with applications for which optics and imaging technology are critical, such as medical applications. But also in the semiconductor industry where we produce Reticle Masking modules for ASML, among other things’, he summarises.

Don’t all technology companies find something to their liking in the chosen key technologies? Slot, who for years was involved in what was first called Point-One and later resulted in the top sector policy, agrees. ‘I was a member of the roadmap council of the High-Tech Systems and Materials top sector for a long time. We were talking about eighteen roadmaps. And that was only within one of the ten top sectors.’ Another list is the Key Enabling Technologies, an industry-wide consensus on the most important technologies for the Netherlands. At the end of last year, the counter stood at 44. ‘That’s quite a lot for such a small country. So now we choose ten, but they’re still quite general.’

Aim for the moon

So we’re not focusing enough? According to Slot, that is not the only question to ask. ‘We shouldn’t just be asking ourselves which technologies to focus on’, he says. ‘It’s also about the question of: what are we going to do with it? Which products for which applications?’ To clarify his statement, Slot talks about his time at Océ/Canon where he worked before moving to Frencken three years ago. One of the themes he was worked on at the time was additive manufacturing. To follow developments closely, he attended many seminars and workshops, in the Netherlands and abroad. ‘I would listen all day about how we could make such and such a product. They hardly talked about the what: WHAT are we going to print in 3D?’

He continues: ‘I regularly advocated a moonshot project. For instance, why don’t we set ourselves the goal of being able to print a human heart within ten years? If everyone puts their weight behind it, I’m sure we’ll succeed. And this way, you can define even more moonshots that are economically interesting and fulfil a social need.’

Slot does not mean to say that additive manufacturing should be a spearhead for the Netherlands. ‘Some time ago, we were told we should focus heavily on 3D printing and solar cells. Both risky, because the Netherlands had no history in either field.’ So it comes as no surprise to him that this has not been a great success. ‘But we did invest a lot of effort, time and money in it.’

Frencken’s 7

Frencken also focuses on a smaller scale. ‘What are our core competencies?’, Slot asks himself. ‘A few years ago, we started evaluating 25 competencies. Of course, these couldn’t all be core competencies.’ In a large-scale exercise, Slot and his colleagues pitted these topics against each other in a competency framework. The x-axis indicated Frencken’s ability at a competency, and the y-axis indicated how valuable and attractive it was to his customers. ‘Obviously, the competencies in the top right are special; you have to pay close attention to them and continue to invest in them in order to continue to add a lot of value.’

This exercise ultimately resulted in seven true core competencies. These include precision engineering & high-precision machining, motion control, ultra-clean manufacturing and complex high-level assembly & qualification. Slot still thinks seven is a bit much, but he also knows: ‘You have to be careful with what you get rid of. Value engineering & dfx, for instance. Are we better at this than others? Maybe not. But it would be strange to drop it from the list of core competencies, because we’re very good at it and customers always ask for it. It’s almost a licence to operate; if you don’t consider it a priority, you’re out.’

Past results…

Back to the Netherlands. Frencken does not have a strategic agenda in the sense that it tries to influence or direct the market. Each year, it recalibrates its plans based on what it observes in the industry. However, Slot certainly has ideas about which choices are more likely to succeed for the Netherlands. And it isn’t additive manufacturing or solar cells. ‘Those are foregone conclusions. You have to look internationally, at the different continents, because the world’s a village. Choose a theme that others haven’t picked, or not yet, or one they’re not good at.’ Quantum computing or photonics? ‘Fine, but I’d like to add: what products will we be making? So don’t come up with a long list of potential application areas, but make a choice in that field too.’

Mechatronics is an area in which the Netherlands has been excelling for many years. But Slot emphasises that past results are no guarantee for the future. ‘Of course we have history there, with the Natlab and the complete Philips legacy. A lot of activity has arisen based on the entire supply chain. However, I do worry about how we can maintain that. It’s largely ASML that’s currently driving advanced mechatronics. Yes, there are a few other gems, after that, the wash is rather poor. We need to look for the next generation of companies that need high-end mechatronics to stay ahead of the competition.’ Because only nearby leading companies will allow us to maintain and expand that knowledge, is what he means to say.

Stop navel gazing

Slot has more advice: ‘Prevent navel gazing. In the Netherlands we tend to think very regionally. Valley X here and a delta X there. Americans and Asians don’t understand that at all. To them, the Netherlands is simply one region. We’re selling ourselves short with the divide and rule strategy.’

Where we could make a difference in this region is medical and health applications, Slot believes. ‘That’s much less of a topic in China, for instance. In Europe, people’s well-being is the focus of attention. How people feel, how they can grow old in good health, that seems to me to be something typical for the Netherlands and Europe to focus on. It fits our history and culture. Perhaps a good target market for photonics’, he concludes with a wink.


Link magazine special 2024: The Dutch High-Tech Industry and the European Ecosystem: stronger together. Read this edition digital.

Minister Adriaansens’ ten key technologies

Businesses, knowledge institutions, social organisations and the government will give priority to these ten strategic technologies:

1 optics and integrated photonics

2 quantum

3 green chemical production processes

4 biotechnology focused on molecules and cells

5 imaging technology

6 (opto)mechatronics (industrial systems/machines and equipment)

7 artificial intelligence (AI) and data

8 energy materials

9 semiconductors

10 cybersecurity



Deze site gebruikt Akismet om spam te verminderen. Bekijk hoe je reactie-gegevens worden verwerkt.

Geverifieerd door ExactMetrics