Mr Thielen, the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster was set up around 15 years ago. How has the cluster evolved over these years?
“The cluster started in 2003 when 10 industrial companies and two public research centres joined forces to work on applied research. Focusing on the development of surface technologies for industrial manufacturing and assembling processes in the fields of metals, glass and polymers, their work laid the foundations for today’s centre of excellence in surface treatment, characterisation of materials and plasma technologies at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).
The scope of the cluster was extended in 2008, from applied research to materials in general, and the membership grew to 30 companies. In 2012, the cluster integrated with the Luxembourg Cluster Initiative put in place by the Ministry of the Economy and Luxinnovation. We widened the scope even further to materials and manufacturing industries, which allowed us to make a further, very significant growth of our membership base. Today, we have over 80 industry members, ranging from SMEs to large industrial groups.
I got involved in the cluster in 2010 and have been the cluster president since then. This role was a perfect fit for me, as I was at that time in charge of building up the open innovation organisation at the Goodyear Innovation Center in Luxembourg. For me, the cluster president is a federator. I facilitate the communication among our members as well as with external parties such as the presidents of the other Luxembourg clusters, authorities and funding agencies. My work complements that of the full-time cluster manager who is employed by Luxinnovation.”
What are the priority themes of the cluster?
“The main role of the cluster is to anticipate, in the best way possible, new industry trends and needs. We carry out a thoughtful gap analysis as a basis for developing value propositions and implementing new actions with high impact, both in Luxembourg and in the Greater Region. Priority themes include automation, robotisation, Industry 4.0 and composite materials. We aim not just to react to every new buzzword but to implement actions in fields that are sustainable over the long term.
Focusing on start-ups and new industrial companies arriving in Luxembourg, in a manner that is coherent with our processes and analyses, is a high priority for me. A second priority is to intensify our collaboration with public research, in particular the University of Luxembourg and LIST. The proportion of our members that truly benefits from cooperation with public research is still too low. An open innovation approach is key: the cluster members are by definition open to interact with others, and if they need additional skills in science and technology to innovate these can ideally be sourced from the public research organisations. We want to increase the awareness and understanding of this collaboration potential.”
What do you see as the main added value of the cluster for its members?
“We facilitate collaboration and run cross-sector projects, including marketing studies and technology watch, which the great majority of our members benefit from. We also organise events as well as marketing and communication initiatives. I would like to further develop this joint platform into a fully developed technology platform that can have an impact both in Luxembourg and in the Greater Region.
In addition, we undertake specific business development actions and implement flagship projects uniting a high proportion of our company members as well as the public research sector that is fully integrated into the cluster. One of our first flagship projects was the National Composite Centre – Luxembourg (NCC-L) that closely collaborates with the Luxembourg Composite Industry Group which has been recently created and has its roots in the cluster. Other ongoing projects focus on robotisation, automation, Industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing.
It is also essential for the cluster to remain close to the daily challenges of the sector and provide locally sourced solutions. For this reason, a cluster advisory group composed of volunteer cluster members was set up in 2018 to work on current industry issues and best practice sharing.”
The Materials & Manufacturing Cluster played a key role in the creation of the NCC-L and the associated Composite Industry Luxembourg group. How will this initiative contribute to the development of the sector?
“The idea of creating a composites centre originally came from Luxembourg’s high committee for industry development and was further developed together with companies. Luxinnovation and the cluster strongly contributed to the set-up of the centre that is operated by LIST with the main goal of providing new solutions supporting industry needs. We want the NCC-L to develop into a renowned technology platform with scientific and technological excellence of true value for business. It is also a means for profiling Luxembourg expertise in composite materials at the international level and initiating collaboration with main international players in the field.”
Does the role of the cluster extend beyond the borders of Luxembourg?
“Yes, it does. Our current horizon is mainly national, but we are preparing an ambitious plan targeting the Greater Region. We aim to continue building high impact partnerships with relevant clusters as well as stimulating direct interaction between cluster members in Luxembourg and our neighbouring regions. Many of them already have relationships with both companies and public research bodies elsewhere in the Greater Region. My vision is to see some organisations from the Greater Region, carefully chosen based on our gap analysis, join the Materials & Manufacturing Cluster in the future.”