'Software is an enabler for pushing boundaries'

An increasing proportion of high-tech equipment consists of software. At the same time, the importance of utilizing software in optimizing development processes is growing. That does not take away the fact that significant progress is always made in the interplay with mechatronics and electronics. Laurens van de Laar, Software Architect at NTS: ‘Generating and applying appropriate software, for example to reduce costs, accelerate time to market and add quality, requires advanced tools and skills. However, getting the best results calls for a culture of a real machine builder. Exactly that makes NTS unique.'

The complexity of high-tech systems has increased enormously over the last few decades. OEMs - for example in the semiconductor, analytical and digital printing industries - create machines that not rarely operate on the edge of physical possibilities. Their performance is ever more determined by software.

Complexity and intelligence

'Creating a machine with an optimal conduct, also in our high-tech world, requires a sound mechanical and electronic design', says Laurens. 'If that is not the case, you can't usually straighten that with software. The laws of physics always apply. However, with the use of software you can push the boundaries. It is a technology to maximize results, both from the perspective of machine and process control. You can add speed, accuracy, usability, maintainability, freedom of choice, functionality, uptime...  In other words: there is a difference between complexity and intelligence, and the latter always runs on software. That makes our discipline so crucial for NTS and our customers.'

Evolution

NTS is a first-tier partner for OEMs, has a tremendous knowledge of opto-mechatronics and a strong focus on high complexity, low volume, high mix markets. The company is globally active and operates as a one-stop-shop in development and engineering, component manufacturing and assembly. Laurens has been working at NTS for 13 years now. He is a member of the software team within the Development & Engineering division. Over the years, in line with the evolution of high-tech machine construction, his work domain has changed substantially. In the past software was usually applied as a final layer once the physical design was done. Now it is part of development processes from the very beginning of the creation process.

Bridges

‘Our customers continually push technological innovation within new business models. Short development times, cost efficiency and quality are crucial to their competitive strength. As software developers at NTS we contribute to their success in various ways, first of all through our ability to rapidly set up a conceptual system design within an integrated multidisciplinary approach and then realize it in a short amount of time. One of the resources we employ to achieve this is our NTS Machine Development Studio, an advanced engineering tool that we develop ourselves. This enables us to combine all sorts of building blocks into virtual systems, and run, test and analyze it. In this way we can assess possible system configurations and identify and eliminate bottlenecks in the early phases of the development path together with our customers. In addition, it allows us to make all kinds of testing and analysis functionality available very quickly, which is also important from the perspective of design for excellence and optimizing manufacturing. At the same time it should be said that software tools are only part of the solution in achieving the goals of our customers. The use of previously developed solutions - the re-use of proven technology - also helps greatly and in doing so NTS can build on an extensive and broad portfolio of projects. In addition, our strong vertical integration allows us to easily build the necessary bridges between mechatronics, electronics and software, for instance because of the data we have available about all sorts of components because they are measured or build in our production facilities.'

Unique core quality

Jurgen Wilsch, Software Architect at NTS, underlines the advantage that the culture of a high-tech manufacturer offers him in exercising his profession. In addition to the joy that comes with a variety of projects and technological challenges, this was a major reason for him to make the switch from a large international OEM to NTS three years ago.

'There are a lot of clever and skilled software engineers who can contribute to the development and construction of high-tech machines. They are skilled in creating solid architectures, applying all sorts of tools and methodologies, writing code, you name it. These people are working at NTS, and we hire them through specialized partners when projects require this. In that way we are able to quickly ramp up and down to benefit our clients. But it is our own software team that has a core quality that you don't find anywhere else to my knowledge. In our men and women beat the hearts of real machine builders. Their shared knowledge in the fields of optics, physics, materials, dynamic behavior, thermal effects and all sorts of related disciplines is enormous. And more than that, they can quickly translate their experience in these fields into an image of a machine; how it should look, what components are needed, what the critical factors are and what it takes to get it to do what it needs to do. In addition, they easily weigh up how users - clients, service engineers, developers - ultimately want to deploy and use the machine. All these competences add up in meeting the needs of our customers, even in those cases in which they do not know exactly what they are asking for. In my view this is precisely what is needed to add maximum value as software developers in converting technical and functional requirements into an efficient development process and contemporary technology. And in saying this I am not just talking about topics such as development speed and the actual performance, functionality, flexibility and robustness of the module or machine. I’m also referring to - in view of the emergence of Industry 4.0 - matters such as connectivity and preventive maintenance.’

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This news article was part of our newsletter Accelerating News Q4 - 2019

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