PhD Interview - Dr. Ing. Victor Verboeket
Our BISCI colleague, Dr Ing Victor Verboeket, shares his experience of successfully defending his PhD.
Grant: Hi Victor, thank you for joining me today to discuss your recent defence of your PhD and your learnings along the way. Let us go back to the beginning, what is your background and how did you come to start your PhD?
Victor: 'I started my education with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, then moving on to complete a master’s degree in management. A few years later I also did my MBA. From a business perspective I have had many roles over the years from project manager, business development director, warehouse manager, distribution centre manager, IT manager, HR manager and more. The interesting thing is I was not consciously aware I was doing all of this in the field of supply chain management, due to the various roles, but I suppose I have largely always been in that area.'
Grant: Interesting, so subconsciously becoming a supply chain management expert! And why the specific switch at this stage from business back to academia for a PhD?
Victor: 'Indeed, why switch to academia. My career has always been in business, and by 2012, I was in my early 40s, I had enough money, had my family and a nice house etc. The only thing I did not have was time and a ‘good feeling’. I was not always comfortable with the lack of freedom of thought and action in business and managing people upwards was difficult for me to do, although I received (and still do receive) good feedback for managing my own teams. Moreover, I like to help people, improve them and coach them, and as a coach I am not soft, but quite firm, nonetheless it seems people appreciate this style from me.
I then got the opportunity to go to Zuyd Hogeschool as a supply chain management teacher. We started out small with a few students then grew to a larger group of 40 students or so. Throughout the first few years in this role I travelled to a lot of places, Russia, China and lots of Europe, which I enjoyed but I did not see myself continuing teaching until the end of my career. Took time to reflect and thought I wanted to become a professor of applied science, so this became my driver to doing my PhD.'
Grant: And did anyone inspire you along the way to choose this path or your research topic?
Victor: 'Well yes, for the topic at least, it was Jan Jaap Semeijn, professor at the Open University/Maastricht University that sparked the idea of doing something interesting, such as 3D printing, or also more formally called additive manufacturing. I then developed the topic of ‘the effect of 3D printing on designing supply chains’. Essentially, how can 3D printing be used to influence the supply chain for the better.'
Grant: So, with an idea in mind how do you go about beginning a PhD?
Victor: 'Well, of course the usual struggle of securing your funding, which is essentially your salary for the duration of the research and some other costs. It took me a year and half from the idea inception stage to getting the funding secured for it. Ultimately, I found a nice balance of part time employment at Zuyd Hogeschool for two days a week in the educational role I held prior and three days a week on my PhD.
During my initial research I found out about the paradigm of Design Science Research (DSR), which is a research strategy for connecting theory and practice, something I have tried to do throughout my career. I was immediately drawn to it and ultimately it formed the basis of the articles I wrote throughout my PhD. The first 2 articles were theoretical based and have subsequently been published. The second two articles were case studies where I used the theoretical basis of the first two and combined it with business advice. So, if you are interested in doing business work and academia together then it may be interesting to learn from my experiences in doing so through that article. Furthermore, to clarify, my dissertation is also on this intersect of where technology and business meet i.e. it is not about 3D technology per se but about how this technology interacts with businesses.'
Grant: Interesting, so with this connection to business being important, one could say it is firmly in the applied research area?
Victor: 'Well, I saw a lot of academics conducting research for the sake of research and I didn’t think this was for me. As I was also questioning what this type of research brought for society. To understand this better I often did my best to ask other academics, “who wants this research and who benefits from this research?”.'
Grant: A very to the point Dutch approach, I like it!
Victor: 'Indeed! It was also that I saw existing business problems that had to be solved. I wanted to take it to a level higher than the traditional business consultancy would, as I did not think this would solve the challenge. My reason being, businesses tend to solve problems on a shorter time frame (2 years) and this required a longer view. Academically this then becomes more interesting, as academia tends to see problems on longer time scales (5-10 years). Therefore, this fit nicely in the balance between the two.
Throughout my PhD I worked with a research team in Finland, Jan Holmström in particular and two of the articles were written with other Aalto university members too, and these were also very practical academics. Bart Vos is also one of these very pragmatic professors as well, so I appreciate his presence at BISCI as well. Overall, in order to conduct my thesis I thought it sensible to surround myself with pragmatic people and business and result oriented professors.'
Grant: Great to hear that there are many professors out there who are pragmatic and business oriented. More specifically to the research topic itself and your thesis, what industries did you focus on, and you mentioned two case studies, what were these about?
Victor: 'The case studies were in personalised medical devices, mainly because I am interested in this area, but also because it was very valuable to them for someone to conduct such research in this field. Another area that is in need of this research is spare parts management, but ultimately, I looked at medical devices only. Specifically, I looked at a 3D printed shoe for Hanssen Footcare. They provide custom orthopaedic shoes. The background for this research focuses on issues such as the long delivery time of such a shoe, around 120 days and the high cost and price. Companies such as Hanssen Footcare are in as a result of reducing income from insurance providers, dropping around 3-5% each year at the moment. To address these issues, they are using LEAN methods and other cost cutting measures but will run out of efficiencies they can capitalise on soon. They are therefore looking to new technologies to further reduce costs and increase availability to patients.
During the research I looked at complete supply chain through the individual elements of the shoe, but also as a collective. In other words, I looked at producing the individual elements of the shoemaking process with 3D printing then all of the elements combined. Interestingly, the final product is increasingly expensive and slower to produce with the more elements you 3D print. This is until you 3D print the whole shoe, then it becomes disruptive as its performance change completely. In summary, incremental use of 3d printing did not lead to an improvement in supply chain performance, only a full 3D printing process lead to performance improvement (and dramatically). The reason being that when the whole process was converted to 3D printing, the people, tools etc. all shifted as well, leading to a 90% improvement in speed than the traditional way.
These are of course the academic results here, but for the business this is very valuable research too, as this was essentially consultancy for them. Showing them their existing investments are unlikely to yield immediate supply chain performance improvements, but in 10 years when they can 3D print the whole shoe it will be very disruptive.'
Grant: That is fascinating to see that incremental improvement is not the game-changer, but in fact worsening, somewhat counter-intuitive to me at least! It sounds like a challenging piece of work to review the whole supply chain and break down the manufacturing process, so what was the greatest challenge to completing your research?
Victor: 'Every day you have to start behind your computer and there is little support to help you, so I would say motivating yourself to go deep into the topic every day is a challenge. My expectations against the reality were also quite different, I am a practical and people person so reading and writing all the time was a challenge for me. I had to learn academic reading and writing in detail, especially in English, and this was a further challenge and something I underestimated. I initially thought the process of completing my PhD would be 5-10% writing and the rest of the time doing the research itself, but it was actually the other way around almost. On the other hand, due to my working career I found it easy to build close relationships with the businesses, working very closely with the people that produced the shoe and the CEO of Hanssen Footcare, Frand van der Linden. He sent me a lovely personal message for my defence.
This all being said, whilst enjoying the process, I'm not sure if I would do it again! I like the crossover that we have at BISCI for example, more than solely sitting in the research side.'