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ICD Excursion

On the 18th of May, Scintilla went on an excursion to Innovatie Cluster Drachten or ICD for short. ICD is a collaboration project between various technical companies in the north of the Netherlands. On 8:30 we departed from the Spiegel by bus to Drenthe to go to Astron. In the bus it was clearly noticeable that some people had a little too much to drink the last day, so fortunately for them they had some time to sleep in the bus.

At around 10:00 we arrived at Astron. Astron is a company that specializes in mapping space by using big telescope arrays and data processing. The company headquarters is located inside a dense forest and looked very modern which made the entry by bus very spectacular.

Inside Astron we went to a large presentation room and some companies including Astron presented what they do and answered our questions about their business. I particularly liked a company called Ziuz, which makes software and hardware for visual intelligence. Most of these companies were quite small and ranged from hardware to software companies.

After the presentations we got to see some of the work the employees of Astron do. We got to see some very big FPGAs that were used for their data processing with their testing setup and after that we saw their collaborative project with China to launch an antenna behind the moon to measure frequencies shielded from the earth. Another cool thing was Astron’s very big testing safes which cancelled out all electromagnetic interference. Because we had a very tight schedule we got a lunch package for in the bus and went to Drachten. In Drachten we went to the industrial centre of Phillips were we first got to see a company called FMI which specialises in automating industry. We got to see their ‘cobot’ (cooperative robot) which aims to work together with humans but unfortunately that concept was not viable yet as robot are just better and require less regulation compliance. The people we talked to at FMI did not seem to be excited about the ‘cobot’ technology either, which made that visit a little bit weird, but they had a cool workshop which was nice.

The final company we went to visit was Phillips which is of course known worldwide for their consumer electronics and they did not disappoint us with their facilities. We started of in an even bigger presentation hall than that of Astron and had another talk about some of the companies on their terrain and of course Philips themselves. By now everybody was a bit exhausted from all the listening to company commercials but that quickly faded away when we went to see their factory.

Phillips’s factory was a massive assembly line of robots and humans to quickly manufacture shaving machines. It was very beautiful to see the precision and speed at which all the tiny parts became one whole. What I found interesting was that humans were better at assembling some parts of the shaving machines as machines are not good at clicking things together. Most of the hand work however is done in Romania as the labour costs are too high here so the finished shavers are shipped and packaged by hand in Romania and then send back again. In the factory we also got to see a 3D metal printer which could print very weird shapes to optimize some metal parts, they showed a very tiny light block that they printed that could handle 3 people standing on it and a small coat hanger which could easily hold 20kg, they said however that every print takes 6 days so they could not use this everywhere yet. They said that this technology is already used for jewellery and will have many more applications if printing time is reduced.

Another thing Phillips was working on was an assembly line part which could transport parts to another robot which was currently done by the workers. After all this exciting stuff we went to a nice display room of all Philips products which was very cool as you could also find the shavers which they built in 1950 and because of the order in the display see the technological progress they made over the years, it started with a clearly handmade square box with a shaving head to the smooth plastic devices we have now. In the display room we had a drink with some employees and had Chinese food for dinner. As always with Chinese food I ate to much, but that was not a big deal as we went back to the bus. Back in the bus we sang songs together and I witnessed Herjan being able to finish a Rubik’s cube.