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Netherlands: Rien van der Vorm 40 years at HortiMaX
A career spanning 40 years
Rien van der Vorm started his career as a fledging service engineer at Van Vliet. With his background as a measurement and control technician, he got involved in in-house repair work and system testing in the production department.
In the early years of the climate computers, Rien became interested in the operation and potential of this rapidly emerging technology. He commissioned Van Vliet's first climate computer. As his interest in automation grew, he got another position as a help desk technician, since customers were not always able to figure out everything on their own. When asked what he liked most about that job, Rien answered: "I loved working with customers and it helped us to build a wealth of domain knowledge. Our computers were customized for each of our customers, which was unique at the time. We still do the same for our MultiMa computer, which fits the customer's needs like a glove."
40 years of horticulture
When asked what has changed in horticulture over the past 40 years, Rien answered: "What hasn't changed? In the past, everything was quite standard: growers would open the air vents in the morning and they would close them again in the evening. Now everything is tailored to perfection, for every greenhouse, every crop and every grower. Everyone has their own way of doing things. The yields per square metre have also increased dramatically. Growers need to sign contracts to purchase gas. In addition, completely different revenue models have emerged such as the production of electricity through combined heat and power generation (CHP). In 40 years, growers have turned more into businesspeople and managers. "
40 years of employers
"I have worked under a number of managing directors over the years. It all started with Van Vliet, a family company run by Mr Van Vliet himself. Van Vliet told everyone exactly what to do and we carried it out. That was actually quite nice! The company was then acquired by Westland Energie. That went quite well because it had an affinity with horticulture and a good understanding of the industry. When HortiMaX merged with RWE/Essent everything changed: RWE/Essent was a bigger company that was further removed from horticulture. During that time I was chairman of the works council, and as a result of a reorganization I had to tell my own son that there was no longer a place for him. That was really a low point. Now we are part of a family company again and our focus is back on horticulture. We are once again a company that matters, and I like that."
Most interesting project: Geothermal energy
When asked what the most interesting and innovative project was in his career, Rien didn't have to think long: "The geothermal energy projects of two Dutch growers: Duijvestijn and Ammerlaan. That is also the reason why the last 40 years have flown by: there was always something new and innovative to work on. Together with the customer, we would devise solutions to new challenges. For example, how you can use geothermal energy to heat up water for crop production. But once you've found the answer, you ask yourself what else is possible. How can we use that energy for swimming pools, schools, sports centres and residential homes. And before you know it, you're working in a totally different field: corporate social responsibility. At first, it was all a bit makeshift. Now we've created extremely professional programs or modules for such projects. I'm immensely proud to have played a part in that."
Most complex project: Village Farms
What project was the most challenging in the last 40 years? That project is also still fresh in his memory: "The Village Farms project. Given the large heat demand and Village Farms’ elevated location, configuring the boiler was extremely tricky. The boiler temperature would rise or drop quickly, making the system difficult to control. In the end, we changed the boiler controls to open buffer controls. I'm glad we managed to turn that project around and make the customer happy. Soon after, we started on a follow-up to that project. Now we have pretty much the best boiler controls that you can imagine. Even the most difficult projects can turn out all right."
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