Within the Lightweight Automotive program at Brightlands Materials Center, Jos Lobee is project leader of the OP Zuid project “Thermoplastic Composites”. This OP Zuid project was created to promote research and innovation within the Netherlands and to strengthen cooperation between companies, in particular SME’s. One of the aims of the project, for which Jos Lobee is at the helm, is the further development and application of thermoplastic composites, particularly for the automotive industry.
‘Thermoplastic composites are plastics which, unlike so-called thermosetting polymers, melt when heated and can be reshaped’ explains Lobee. ‘This allows the material to be given a new purpose. These composites are strong and lightweight. This makes working with thermoplastic composites very promising for use in the automotive industry. At present, we are seeing a growing demand from the market for thermoplastic composites. This is the perfect opportunity for us.’
An open innovation laboratory
A laboratory has been set up within the OP Zuid project at Brightlands Materials Center for the purpose of research into these innovative materials. It is equipped with the latest facilities and machinery. ‘Thanks to this project Companies and interested parties can gather knowledge at reasonable rates in our field lab. The field lab is an open innovation laboratory and has an open character,’ says Lobee. ‘In this regard, we invest in the hardware of the laboratory and simulation software as well as in the network of our partners. That includes the equipment and machines available in the lab, for example. We also meet once every six months to exchange knowledge and to network. This results in cooperation projects between various different companies.’
One good example of such a collaboration project is the cooperation between Alligator Plastics, Plastica Thermoforming, and Van Wees. ‘Van Wees is a machine building company and produces thermoplastic composite semi-finished products on a laboratory scale. Plastica Thermoforming laminates this semi-finished product and can give it a range of different shapes. Alligator Plastics is an injection moulding company that in the final stage processes the reshaped material into an injection moulding product. And this all results in a valuable production chain,’ Lobee explains enthusiastically.
‘Another example is a collaboration between Verbi and Brightlands Materials Center. Here, a mould unit was developed for the injection over-moulding of thermoplastic composite test pieces. This was done based on knowledge developed within Brightlands Materials Center. It is a unique tool, found nowhere else in the world, and now available for other companies to buy who want to test composites in this way. These are the cooperation projects we would like to see happen!’
In addition to the development of new thermoplastic material techniques and technologies, the possibilities of recycling thermoplastics are being investigated. ‘This also offers great potential. At present, the residual product of thermosetting polymers is mainly used in cement kilns. The material has a negative value; it serves as fuel. That’s a great waste and a great pity! It is therefore a promising idea for us to investigate whether we can transform residual or waste thermoplastic material again and use it in a new application. At the moment, we are working with various parties to further develop this technique. All in all, we can now say that the OP Zuid project is beginning to bear fruit and that gives me great hope for the future,’ concludes Lobee.
The OP Zuid project runs until 2020 and is co-financed and supported by the OP Zuid programme of the European Regional Development Fund and the Province of Limburg. Want to learn more about this project or about Brightlands Materials Center’s Lightweight Automotive program? Register for our newsletter or contact Jos Lobee: firstname.lastname@example.org.