NLR is the premier aerospace knowledge organisation in the Netherlands. But exactly how significant are we to the Netherlands, what is our economic and societal ‘impact’? Last year the Ministry of Economic Affairs engaged an international audit committee to examine NLR’s impact. In its report on the Knowledge Impact Audit (KIA) the committee concluded:
“NLR applied aerospace knowledge and technology and the NLR facilities are highly relevant for the aerospace sector in the Netherlands and do have the presented impact”.
“Our customers also exhibit great satisfaction with NLR’s services. In the customer satisfaction survey we commissioned an external agency to conduct last year, we got the highest score in our almost 100-year history and the highest score ever for a knowledge organisation in the Netherlands. In short, NLR is regarded as an organisation with a big impact, one that serves the customer in a bespoke way. As the CEO of NLR, I am very proud of this accomplishment”, Michel Peters said.
The audit committee further concluded: “NLR is too humble in its communication about the relevance of NLR and its added value to its stakeholders”. In other words, we tend to be a little too modest about our significance to the Netherlands as an applied knowledge organisation. For that reason, I am delighted to highlight here some high points of 2015 that illustrate NLR’s impact in the Netherlands.
High-tech Pilot Plant for advanced composite manufacturing
The pilot plant we opened last year at our site in Flevoland province is a fine example of our economic impact. Together with Fokker, we are conducting research there into automated production processes for composite components. Using an ultramodern interlacing machine, we are making composite prototypes for subsequent batch-production and marketing by SMEs. The main aims of the activities we perform at the site are to increase the innovativeness and competitiveness of industry and SMEs and to put Flevoland on the map as Europe’s number one centre for composite research and development. The facility is the first ‘field lab’ in the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs says it satisfies all criteria of the government’s ‘Smart Industries’ policy.
Safe integration of drones in civil airspace
Our expertise in unmanned systems stands as an example of our societal impact. These Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or ‘drones’ are becoming increasingly prominent in Dutch airspace and NLR is playing an important role in this evolution. Last year the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) accredited us to perform technical inspections of drones and to train drone pilots. In our new NLR RPAS Test Centre (NRTC), we are researching new drones and safe integration of drones in civil airspace. To facilitate this we recently received permission from ILT to carry out tests flights with drones in closed airspace above our site in Flevoland.
As regards our defence-oriented activities, the audit committee said:
“NLR produces high quality deliverables, gives value for money, delivers on time and is responsive”.
By way of illustration, I want to mention ADVISE (an acronym for Apache Data and Video Intelligence System), an observation system developed by NLR for the Ministry of Defence for Apache helicopters. What makes it special is that in a very short time NLR developed a practical and reliable system that helped ensure the safest possible deployment of troops and materiel during a peacekeeping mission in Mali.
NLR is firmly rooted in the Netherlands, but we are increasingly spreading our wings to other countries. After all, aerospace is by definition a cross-border activity. That is why NLR participates in major European programmes like SESAR and Clean Sky 2. NLR works closely in this field with SMEs and Dutch industry and opens doors for them in Europe that would otherwise remain closed. So our participation in these programs also has an impact on our society. Or, as the audit committee put it: “The committee considers NLR a catalyst for Dutch industry workload by its participation in EU programmes”.
Small and more affordable launcher
At NLR our ambition is to further increase our societal, economic and technological impact. The audit committee endorsed this ambition: “NLR has strong capabilities (often unique) that contain the potential for even more impact for societal needs and economic benefits”. The direction for pursuing this potential has been marked out in the NLR Strategy Plan 2014-2017, in which we want to grow in existing markets and explore new ones. One of the objectives of the Strategy Plan is to expand NLR’s significance to the space sector. We have already achieved an initial result: last year NLR became the project leader of the SMall Innovative Launcher for Europe (SMILE) project. The project is a collaborative venture between a large number of European countries for the purpose of developing a launcher. It will enable smaller and more affordable satellites to be put into the right orbit around Earth for such purposes as studying climate change.
Another objective of our Strategy Plan is to acquire, together with the Dutch business community, contracts from growing economies like Korea, the United Arab Emirates and China. We have already enlarged our order book in those countries. For example, together with German-Dutch Wind Tunnels (DNW) we made various contributions to the development of the COMAC C919, a Chinese passenger aircraft rolled out last year.
A modern knowledge organisation
Highly-motivated employees along with high-quality facilities form the foundations of a knowledge organisation. Without skill and motivation, there will be no impact and no high scores in customer satisfaction surveys. Employees need to be aware of the impact of their work on the community at large and also on their customers. For that reason, our employees are given the opportunity to develop themselves all the time and to take additional training. Initiatives have been launched in order to respond even better to questions from our clients, for example. The ‘Business Class’ initiative is a good example, because it allows employees to receive in-house training to reinforce their entrepreneurship and to utilise their networks even more effectively.
Our employees must feel comfortable in their work and be able to work in prestigious and well-equipped workplaces. In 2015 we started work on a new-build and renovation of our extensive principal building in Amsterdam, while this spring we will drive in the first pile at our new-build on our Flevoland site. At year-end 2017/early 2018, we will be able to move into buildings that satisfy all contemporary requirements and convey who we are: a modern knowledge organisation with a big impact on society.
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