Special: “Smart & Circular” graduation project in collaboration with TNO

The story of Sygun and her five fellow students stems directly from an action which The Hague University of Applied Sciences took in 2019. That was when the university joined SMITZH, the Smart Industry hub of South Holland. This partnership supports companies in digitising their manufacturing process. One of the goals is to make companies not only work more digitally, but also more circularly. The assumption is that through the use of smart technologies, the manufacturing industry can also work more sustainably and therefore reduce its ecological footprint.

The tool is intended for companies that want to make the transition to a more circular business model, but don't yet know how. Collecting examples and lessons learned from pioneers in this field will help companies that still need to take this step to better determine how they will shape their own transition. 

Within the university of applied sciences, the Digital Operations & Finance Centre of Expertise plays a leading role in this research. The Centre of Expertise brought Sygun and her fellow students in contact with TNO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research. They challenge the students to develop the design of the accelerator tool. TNO and the Centre of Expertise use the students' design to develop the tool into a market-ready product. So a lot depends on the work of the students. 

Circular actions 

When she started “Smart & Circular”, Sygun had already successfully completed the minor of Business Models for the Circular Economy. ‘In the circular economy, you close the cycle by using fewer scarce resources to produce a product — by using materials which are more biodegradable and easy to reuse. In the circular economy, we try to keep everything within the cycle as much as possible. That results in lower CO2 emissions.’ 

‘In our research, we mainly looked at the smart manufacturing industry: in other words, the manufacturing industry which increasingly uses smart technology. Think, for example, of the Internet of Things, Big Data, robots, 3D printers, etc. These technologies are already quite sustainable. How can they be used in a circular way? What value does that add?’ 

‘With a combination of Big Data and smart ICT-based innovations, you can do smarter preventive maintenance, among other things. This allows you to use fewer materials and extend the lifespan of machines. By using the Internet of Things, you can make materials more reusable. You can also structure the life cycle of a product in such a way that the product remains the property of its manufacturer. The manufacturer offers it to the user as a “product as a service”. The product then always returns to the owner. The owner remains responsible for the materials used in that product and for their reuse.’ 

Useful tool for companies 

To make the “Smart & Circular” project a success, the students divide the tasks. Sygun and a few other students contact six companies who are pioneers in circular actions, including Heerema, Lely and HTC, the developer and producer of Speedgates. The students are allowed to have a look behind the scenes by conducting interviews and researching which lessons learned are interesting to other companies. In the meantime, other students are developing the accelerator tool. 

‘We processed the interview results together in the tool. Other companies can use this tool if they also want to act circularly. They will then see how others have approached it, which technologies they can use, what they need to pay attention to, what intrinsic motivation is important, and what network you need to act circularly.’ 


Meanwhile, Sygun has submitted her thesis. Looking back, she found the cooperation with TNO in particular very interesting. ‘It was also their first time in collaborating this way with students of The Hague University of Applied Sciences. The dynamics between students and researchers was especially interesting. The researchers really leaned on the students' research results. I have really started to enjoy doing research. During the research you gradually learn so much and all you really want to do is to continue.’ 

The graduating students of the “Smart & Circular” project are: Jordi Zoun and Rylan Penza from Finance & Control, Sygun van Arem and Maren Flunkert from European Studies, Tim den Hoedt and Abraham Amadeus Theodorus Xavier from Process & Food Technology. Sander Limonard and Jonneke de Koning were involved in this research as lecturer/researchers on behalf of Digital Operations & Finance.