Sometimes when you join a company you sense that special click. A feeling that you are where you want to be and that you don’t ever want to leave. That’s how it was for Jan Stekelenburg. After graduating in electrical engineering, he joined Nedap as an RF engineer in 1988. Over the past 33 years he has been involved in many wonderful developments and numerous innovations. “This job just suits me very well”, Jan says and explains why.
Jan has always had a deeply rooted passion for electrical engineering. “What I find so fascinating is that it’s so closely related to physics. A lot of my work involves sensors that interact with nature. So as well as an electrical engineer, I’m actually also a physicist. Physics is a black box to many people, but to me it’s more like Lego, offering endless possibilities. Fantastic if you can shape that yourself.”
Jan has spent his whole career with Nedap’s Livestock Management market group. He has pioneered numerous smart innovations for the agricultural sector, which enable farmers to monitor their animals’ health. “That can prove quite a challenge, because cows and pigs obviously have a mind of their own. They don’t always cooperate as you would like them to; they may walk away, or eat too much. How can you monitor them well 24/7? We devise smart solutions to do just that.”
And those solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Jan: “I have been doing this for over thirty years now and have seen our developments improve continuously.” We started out with a relatively simple system that measures how busy it is at the feeding station, allowing us to monitor how much the cows eat. Later developments included a sensor to detect whether a cow was in heat. We now have a whole range of sensors enabling us to measure all manner of things, including the heart rate. One innovation I am particularly proud of is our milk meter, which very precisely measures the amount of milk a cow gives. A sudden drop in production could indicate that the cow has an infection or disease and that the farmer needs to intervene.”
"We are currently busy developing a new generation of CowControl, a kind of Fitbit for cows."
The more complex the solutions become, the larger and more diverse the group of developers involved. “A very diverse group, with as many as ten colleagues, sometimes”, Jan says. “If we identify a market demand anywhere, we create a project team top-down and get cracking. One of us develops the electronics, another the software and I’m usually responsible for the electrical engineering. We are currently busy developing a new generation of CowControl, a kind of Fitbit for cows. A state-of-the-art product with really unique technology. The first prototype is expected next year and will be extensively tested and fine-tuned over the coming years. That is a very time-consuming process.”
Working at Nedap
Many wonderful developments take shape in the same way. How does Nedap support that? “By actually giving you an incredible amount of freedom”, Jan emphasises. “That’s something you have to be able to handle. You have a lot of resources at your disposal, but you’re also expected to take a high degree of responsibility. You are also encouraged to do what you enjoy most. And that’s what I did. I have always enjoyed working with sensors and monitoring devices and I found my ideal role within two years. And if that’s not possible within a particular market group, you get every opportunity to try a different one. This is quite simply a job that suits me very well. We have a very pleasant workplace and an excellent social climate. Which is why I’ve been here for 33 years. And hope to stay here until I retire.”
Which way are you heading?
At Nedap, we’re not so keen on fixed routes: we prefer to challenge you to shape your own future.