Alex Berhitu and Rudmer Heij (WCCS)

Composite: a strong example of lightweighting

Composite is the material of the future. Its use can make existing products lighter and stronger, as well as be the ideal choice when developing new products. The aircraft industry has embraced the use of composites for years, but there are endless applications in just as many sectors. Consider, for example, frames of racing bicycles or masts of sailboats. The World Class
Composites Solutions (WCCS) program is all about knowledge sharing and (joint) innovation. Rudmer Heij and Alex Berhitu are involved in WCCS from the NOM and talk about the importance of the program.

Composites are all-rounders

'The beauty of composites is that an infinite number of different applications are conceivable. They are valuable for a lot of different companies and sectors, but implementation is not yet everywhere on the radar. That is why WCCS offers knowledge, experience and expertise in the field of this material,' Berhitu begins. 'Many people ask what exactly a composite is, and basically it comes down to a combination of two materials that complement each other in terms of properties. For example, lighter weight or more flexibility combined with strength. Composites can replace metal, but also wood or other materials.'

Commitment to thriving ecosystem in the region

The aircraft industry fell for the advantages of composite early on, precisely because here the combination of light and strong is crucial. The findings from years of intensive research at Fokker, leading partner in WCCS, are now shared within the network and Fokker naturally hopes to gain new insights, but also has an interest in a thriving business community in the region. Heij: "The advantages of composites certainly extend beyond the aircraft industry. In fact, the use of these materials has many advantages, including weight savings. The associated cost savings can be very interesting for SMEs. An example of this is Fiby's tipper bodies. These are made of composite instead of steel, making them much lighter. This saves fuel or actually allows more cargo to be carried.'

Investigate, educate, implement

An ecosystem is not built in a day. It requires commitment from all partners within the network, as well as other relevant parties from the Northern Netherlands. In order to further develop composites, on the one hand, research is needed. On the other hand, professionals are indispensable for their processing. 'Stenden University of Applied Sciences is one of the partners of WCCS.

They want to gain knowledge so they can adapt their training to provide people who have the expertise to actually implement the use of these materials," Berhitu explained. The Province of Drenthe is also participating. 'Fokker is located in Hoogeveen and in Drenthe there are several companies active with composites. Commitment to innovation in that area creates more employment.'

Watching, listening and doing

Composites can also be interesting outside the manufacturing industry. Berhitu: 'Think of the material used for prosthetics in healthcare. But it is also good for architects and urban planners to learn about the possibilities of composites. They can be of great value for designing buildings or urban furniture. And don't forget the automotive sector. Look, Fokker and other aircraft manufacturers have been using composites for a very long time.

If there are strict regulations anywhere, it's in that industry. It really pays to explore the possibilities.' To share knowledge and exchange expertise, various activities are organized from WCCS. There are also several subprojects that zoom in on specific issues, the so-called work packages. Heij: "It is important that we keep our eyes open for companies that can use composites in their products, because this material offers interesting opportunities that could potentially lead to more business. We want to know what these companies need in order to actually start working with composites. The better we know this, the better we can focus our activities accordingly and the stronger the potential ecosystem of companies becomes.'

WCCS partners: NOM, Fokker, Stenden PRE, TU Delft, TNO, RUG, S[&]T, QSight IT, Hanzehogeschool Groningen, Boikon, Vanenburg Software, 3D Value

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