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From young researcher to asset manager: a technology track! Farewell speech by Professor Leo van Dongen

After 12.5 years Leo van Dongen (Faculty of Engineering Technology) is bidding farewell to the University of Twente. His main research was on effective management of capital goods, on which he also lectured in the Master track Mechanical Engineering. He also brought the world of business closer to UT, with organisations such as NS, ProRail, Alliander, Strukton and the Ministry of Defence. Van Dongen gave his farewell speech on 17 November 2022.

In his speech he covers seven decades of technical and social developments. In particular, the interaction between engineering & technology and society, including his personal perceptions and contributions. 

“In the 1950s and 1960s, during the reconstruction after WW II, engineering and technology dominated: the new public and private infrastructure was built by engineers. A period in which many households had no TV, phone, car, central heating and suchlike. The energy transition was from coal to gas. In the 70s and 80s the economy grew and so did mobility (cars). There was an energy crisis and burgeoning democratisation. Initiatives occurred such as the Delta Works, nuclear power plants (Borssele), Macintosh computers, CDs and Vinex residential areas. So there was still a significant technology push.” 

“In the 90s the government took more of a backseat. This was a time of privatisation, corporatisation and often company demergers. Earning capacity and shareholder value were paramount. Engineering and technology became background tasks and big companies sold their ‘technical departments’. Failures occurred on various fronts: accidents in Moerdijk, long turnaround times in infrastructure and water projects, housing corporations were investing in risky properties instead of building social housing and at NS there was the unsuccessful Fyra project.” 

“Fortunately, there was a recovery in operating processes at the beginning of this century and engineering and technology was back on the agenda, but in the form of a technology pull. High Tech Human Touch had arrived. I was working for NS at the time and had the opportunity to broaden our horizons. Maintenance and asset management became a profession, created added value and were no longer considered to be an item of expenditure. The Dutch Institute World Class Maintenance then came into being. In 2010 I became a professor in that field at Twente.” 

“My UT chair in Asset Management & Maintenance Engineering developed into a broad partnership with many industries and a variety of disciplines across a number of faculties. Not just research results but also summer schools, masterclasses and new subjects.“ 

“For the past three years I have been chair of the Design, Production & Management department, DPM, at UT. We are working on the total life cycle product in the world of digitalisation and sustainability.” 

“In the hustle and bustle of the day we sometimes take decisions too quickly without considering the long-term effects and, from all my experience, my tip for the future is: Building the future is something we do together! Politics, public/private administration, science, technicians, operators and citizens. In that regard we are a ‘People-First University’". 

drs. J.G.M. van den Elshout (Janneke)
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