ST 003-14 2014-01-10

From heavy-load to high-tech: Innovative across the board

Backgrounder Dutch machinery and plant engineering

Packed with innovation, export-oriented and with a mid-sized character: Dutch machinery and plant engineering belongs to one of the leading industries of the country. It complements the strong economic sectors of electronics, food production, logistics and offshore resource extraction.

The industry contributes a share of 24 percent to the GDP of the Netherlands. This value is well above the average in Europe. Therefore, the Netherlands is an attractive market for international mechanical engineering. Every year, the country imports machinery and equipment worth more than 20 billion euros. In addition to construction machinery, the companies mainly buy materials handling equipment and machine tools as well as machinery and equipment for food processing and packaging worldwide.

Dutch engineering has a strong mid-sized character. According to a study by ABN Amro, there are currently around 2,600 machinery manufacturers with fewer than 50 employees and 320 mechanical engineering companies with more than 50 employees. The companies are generally highly specialized and innovative. With 6.7 percent of global sales, they invest far more than average in research and development. Also in absolute terms, the industry ranks among the top five countries throughout Europe for R & D in machinery and plant engineering. Overall, sales revenue amounted to around 21 billion euros in 2012. The Dutch machinery manufacturers exported around 70 percent of that total. The most important markets are Germany, the USA and Taiwan.

The range of manufacturing solutions for the semiconductor and electronics industry extends from food production and packaging to marine and offshore equipment. After all, the Netherlands is one of the ten countries producing the most natural gas. As part of a traditional seafaring nation, Dutch companies have driven offshore technology decisively since the 1970s. Since then, both established as well as newly founded companies have continually been developing innovative solutions for offshore technologies.

Setting standards: technology for offshore applications

For example, the young Dutch company Barge Master has now found an amazing solution for the cost-effective installation of offshore platforms and wind energy turbines: A movable platform connects the crane and ship’s hull and, in spite of waves, keeps the crane as level as if it were on firm ground. This replaces the previously required special equipment for the construction work.

Dutch technology also sets new standards in the disassembly of large offshore platforms. The Allseas Group has developed the world's largest mobile hoist for offshore installations. The special vessel, which is equipped with a Topside Lifting System (TLS), can lift and transport topsides of offshore platforms weighing up to 48,000 tons in one piece. This allows Allseas to considerably reduce costs and risks for the disassembly of offshore platforms.

At the top of the high-tech field worldwide

Even at the other extreme of microscopic movements for the production of microchips, Dutch suppliers are at the top worldwide. These applications involve a degree of accuracy to a few atomic layers, as well as manufacturing steps which take place in a vacuum or in aggressive atmospheres. These machines and pieces of equipment lead to a high-level export business to Asia, especially Taiwan and Korea.

Also very strong are the food and packaging industries, since the agricultural sector plays an important role in the Netherlands. According to a study by the University of Münster, despite their relatively small area, the Netherlands occupy a respectable rank on the world market as an agrarian exporter. As much as 60 percent of all ornamental plants on the world market come from here, as well as 60 percent of all flower bulbs. The Dutch share of the fresh vegetable market is 20 percent. The main exports are unprocessed plant products, vegetables, cheese, meat and milk. The main buyer countries are Germany, the UK and France.

Despite a recession since 2011, industry observers expect a long-term and significant growth of Dutch engineering for the future. For example, ING Bank expects an annual increase of 4.5 percent for machinery exports by 2020.

Bosch Rexroth in the Netherlands

Bosch Rexroth has firmly established itself among the innovative Dutch machinery manufacturers as a development partner for new concepts. Concept centers are operating worldwide with a focus on the semiconductor, solar, marine and offshore and service industries. At the site in Boxtel, the company has a major manufacturing facility for Engineer-to-order products as well as a major plant for large hydraulic cylinders. Bosch Rexroth also plays a significant role in the realization of hydraulic work to protect the low-lying Benelux countries from storm surges and flooding.


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Susanne Herzlieb
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