Ferrie van Hattum describes the lab’s expansion as the icing on the cake. “We’ve doubled in floor space,” says the Lightweight Construction lecturer at Saxion, as he guides us through the revamped lab at Ariënsplein in Enschede. “Where we used to primarily build prototypes, we now have industrial-grade machines in our main lab that enable us to deliver ready-made products. This allows us to cover the entire cycle, from raw material to semi-finished product to end product. We can model, test, and recycle. We’re the largest lab of its kind in the Netherlands and perhaps even Europe, operating in this manner.”
The ThermoPlastic Applications Centre (TPAC), established by Saxion a decade ago within the Lightweight Construction research group, was created to forge a path distinct from the University of Twente's ThermoPlastic composites Research Centre (TPRC), which collaborates with Boeing, Fokker, and TenCate on lightweight materials research. Unlike TPRC's aerospace and specialized research orientation, TPAC aims to deliver practical, application-focused research for small and medium-sized businesses, serving essentially as an external R&D department for these entities.
In its early years, TPAC often had to actively seek out projects, but today, companies readily approach the Saxion lab for collaboration. The centre has developed a wide array of products, from safety shoe noses to child seats and airplane parts, thanks to its approachable and cost-effective research model. Companies with a research question can easily engage with TPAC, which strives to minimize their financial burden by leveraging available research funding. This approach has proven successful, as evidenced by the recurring business from companies, indicating TPAC's effectiveness in meeting their research needs.
Sustainability is a major focus at TPAC. In an era where lightweight materials are predominantly derived from oil-based resources, TPAC has pioneered the development of similar products from recycled materials, showcasing the lab's commitment to innovation. "With new CO2 regulations on the horizon and environmental impacts becoming increasingly critical, we've started working with recycled materials at an early stage. The products we aim to create are often lighter, more rigid, and stronger than existing materials, and they are more environmentally friendly."
Van Hattum highlights products he's particularly proud of, such as a car part and an access hatch for the aerospace industry—areas where TPAC doesn't typically work extensively in the region, but these products demonstrate the lab's capabilities. The car part was developed for Stellantis, parent company of Fiat among others. "They noticed an increase in (electric) cars and a need for these to be lighter. They were looking for a plastic product that could replace steel. We collaborated with multiple parties on this. One company provided granules of fully recycled plastic, another created a very rigid composite tape from it. We then wove this tape into a fabric, which a third company processed into a sheet. From this, we created a demo for Stellantis in the desired shape. Our product is stronger, lighter, and cheaper than the original material and meets the environmental standards set by Brussels for 2030. Achieving this with existing technology from Dutch companies is quite cool."
The access hatch for the aerospace industry, made for an American client of GKN-Fokker, was constructed from previously used materials. "In this case, from recycled airplane parts," Van Hattum explains. "They were shredded into large 'flakes' and melted at high temperatures in a unique machine developed specifically for this purpose. The molten material was then pressed into shape, resulting in the final product. Developed in just two years, it's incredibly fast for the aerospace industry. Plus, it was lighter and cheaper too." This access hatch gave TPAC a global first. "It was the first time in aviation history that a part made of fully recycled thermoplastic composite material was flown. As a research group affiliated with a university of applied sciences, we're quite proud to have achieved that."
Van Hattum speaks with palpable enthusiasm about both significant achievements and smaller-scale solutions alike, taking pride in how TPAC has demonstrated its value over the past decade. The impact it has made on local, national, and international levels is a source of pride. "We started from scratch ten years ago, using homemade devices. Look at where we are now. We're growing. Each year, we simply become bigger as more regional companies bring us projects. We're called upon for major national and international projects. This recognition is a testament to the quality of work being done here. We're proud of that. With our ongoing expansion, we're set for the next decade."
Date: 31 January 2024 |
Source of tekst: Saxion |
Author: Wendy Kloezeman