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'No better way to learn than through the practical experience I'm gaining here'

‘My father had a workshop where if you could think of it, you could build it. No wonder then that I’ve ended up in engineering: I’ve been fascinated by it ever since I was young! That’s why I decided to study this subject.’ Michiel Louwé, junior mechanical engineer at VIRO in Hengelo, opted for the University of Twente, where he ended up taking a degree in Mechanical Engineering because of his passion for classical mechanics. ‘I opted for that course because I was used to working with my hands, and with structures. On top of that, I’ve got a real interest in cars, and that often gets pretty technical too. It won’t come as a shock then that I decided to pursue this course.’

As part of his master's degree, Michiel was looking for an internship position. He put his feelers out with several manufacturing businesses with their own engineering departments — ‘Including some of a more physical bent, instead of just consultancy-like environments,’ he adds, ‘as that seemed more like my thing’ — as well as at VIRO. He didn’t quite expect it to turn out like this, but VIRO was his preferred choice in the end: ‘Because you’re working for all kinds of different businesses while based at a single company. There’s also the opportunity to switch, without having to actually change jobs. I thought that was one of the main advantages, and in fact, I still do.’

Challenging project

At the time of this interview, Michiel has been working at VIRO for eighteen months. He spent just under twelve months of that working full-time on a single project, that also spawned several smaller sub-projects. The aim of the project was to optimize a Zeiss component supplied to ASML. ‘I can’t say too much about it, but I can tell you this: the component had to meet a whole host of performance requirements. It is suspended in a vacuum, it has to meet extremely strict specifications, and the environment needs to be incredibly clean. That made it a real challenge to come up with the perfect solution, in terms of the dynamic and thermal requirements, for example. We carried out a lot of research into this. First of all, we started making test components. Once those started passing the tests with flying colours, we were ready to start manufacturing the final components.’

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Throw yourself in

Over a period of just eighteen months, Michiel has learned a lot. Work experience is entirely different to educational experience, as he puts it in his own words. ‘At university, you learn a few things here and there about how to tackle a project, but doing it for real is an entirely different thing. You need to figure out how the company is organized, and how to approach people to really achieve progress. You get the hang of it eventually, but its hard work to begin with. After a few months, though, it all starts coming much more naturally.’

In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that work experience is a different kettle of fish to educational experience. But has there been a real eye-opener somewhere along the way? An experience that made him stop and think? ‘The main thing VIRO wants is that the work is done to a very high standard. It doesn’t place any time limits on that: it’s better to spend a few weeks on a task and produce something that is excellent, than to knock something up in a week that doesn’t meet the requirements in the end and is of no use to anyone. Just to be clear: you are expected to make good progress, and people work hard here. Even so, if you tell someone that something is likely to take twice as long as you thought, they accept that.’ Is that something that appeals to him, that sense of perfectionism, and seeing things through to the end? ‘Absolutely. It gives you the chance to really throw yourself into something. That in turn leads you to a better end result than you ever expected, because you’ve grasped every last detail of the subject matter at hand.’

Level-headed, affable, and sporty

Talking about seeing things through to the end: what’s the deal with Michiel’s own ambitions? How does he envisage the future he’s got ahead of him? ‘I’ve not really thought about it yet. I’m still young, and there are lots of avenues I could explore. I’m not from Twente — I’m not a real Tukker — but the “kiek’n wat wöt” or “we’ll see what happens” attitude certainly appeals to me.’

That level-headed and affable aspect is also something Michiel sees — and likes — at VIRO: ‘The atmosphere here is always great. VIRO employs a lot of young, enthusiastic people, there’s a laid-back attitude, and if you’ve got a question, everyone is happy to help. To me personally, what happens outside of work also matters, and once again, I couldn’t wish for anything more. We often go for a trip somewhere, we regularly have a drink together, and there’s a special place reserved here for sports too, which really floats my boat. In other words: yes, I’ve settled in just fine here!’