10/04/2018

PHILIPPE FISCHER

Director, Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (FSRM)

Born in 1960

Lives in Cortaillod

3 daughters

Brief Background

Philippe Fischer was born in Le Locle. He attended Blaise Cendrars upper secondary school in La Chaux-de-Fonds, spending a year away from the Neuchâtel region as an exchange student in the United States. He then enrolled on the microtechnology engineering programme at the University of Neuchâtel and EPFL. Completing a master’s degree at ETH Zurich, Philippe learned to speak Swiss German and acquired open-mindedness: both of which would serve him well in his career.

He cut his teeth at Mettler Toledo, specialising in precision balances. In 1990, he joined the Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (FSRM) – which was then a research institution – as associate scientist. He went on to become deputy director. Following the death of the director, which left a deep impression on Philippe, he took over at the helm of the FSRM, which has specialised in continuing training since 1993.

How does the Microcity label help you to promote the FSRM’s activities ?

With a common innovation label for the Neuchâtel region, the modestly sized FSRM joins a large family composed of 1,000 researchers, 7,000 students, and 6,000 apprentices working on 800 projects a year. For a region of this size, it is truly fantastic to have such density and such complementarity in training and research. I am a strong advocate for this label, even if I think it could be even more widely known.

Since 2014, what collaborations have you undertaken with the other members of Microcity ?

The FSRM has actually completed projects with all the members of Microcity. For example, the Micro18 event, which will be held on 1 September 2018 on the theme of Big Data, will gather together all the hub's stakeholders. We’ve been working closely with HE-Arc since autumn 2017 to organise industry 4.0 training sessions. In partnership with CSEM, we are working on events such as the Swiss NanoConvention which will this year be held in Zurich on 6 and 7 June. Then there are the training sessions organised for firms at Neode following the arrival of Sandy Wetzel. Finally, a large number of contributors to the FSRM’s courses also collaborate with CSEM, EPFL and He-Arc.

In your opinion, what are the major innovation challenges facing the canton of Neuchâtel over the next decade ?

I think it's important to maintain the canton’s intrinsic identity - its industrial focus and pioneering spirit. Looked at from this angle, it is vital that firms adapt to the new rules of industry 4.0. Clearly, continuing training can help here. But although the FSRM offers the relevant training, timing remains a key challenge. It is difficult for firms to look beyond the day-to-day. Either the order books are full and everything is thrown into meeting demand. Or, the outlook is less optimistic, as was the case in 2016, and it’s difficult to make bigger plans since the money isn’t coming in. In theory, this is the best time for training, yet no-one does it, even if all business people agree on the principle.

The other challenge relates to the handling of collected data. The Neuchâtel region is great on hardware but lacks expertise in software and applications. With 150 billion connected objects in the future, something must be done with this data. It’s a market ripe for development. We must avoid losing it to the big American tech firms.

For the FSRM's 40th anniversary, there are lots workshops being organised. Do you have a favourite ?

I especially like the children’s workshops "FSRM-Kids" that we’re putting on every Wednesday in 8 different cities in the 4 cantons of the Swiss Jura Arc. It’s rather incredible watching them under the guidance of the CPLN apprentices, who have shown real commitment. We also work with engineers from private firms and the Robosphère project for these workshops.

Written by Victoria Barras

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