Head to your favourite car garage for a composite repair
14 Feb 2018
In order to promote repair possibilities with composites at Dutch car body repair shops, employees of Inholland Composites and students in the Aeronautical Engineering programme at Inholland Delft teamed up to carry out practice-based research over the last two years. This collaboration has resulted in a number of educational programmes that garages can get started with straight away. The findings of the RAAK-mkb project Complaid were recently presented at HAN University of Applied Sciences.
Two years ago, car companies appealed to higher education for help in gaining experience with composites. Further research was needed and a substantial RAAK-mkb grant was made available. This grant got the project up and running, with HAN University of Applied Sciences acting as coordinator. In addition to Inholland University of Applied Sciences, the partners in this consortium included Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Delft Institute of Technology, the Netherlands Aerospace Centre, sectoral organisation FOCWA, ACRATS training services and composites manufacturer TenCate. Eleven car body repair shops also took part in the project, along with repair and training specialists in the area of fibre-reinforced plastics.
Cheaper and more sustainable
Composites are increasingly being used to replace conventional materials. Fibre-reinforced plastics are often the preferred choice in the car industry as well, since they make products more lightweight. The surge in fibre-reinforced plastics has also caused the ‘repair market’ to grow in this area. Car parts traditionally made of steel or aluminium will increasingly be made from plastic composites in future. Until now, such materials have mainly been used in expensive sports cars, for example. However, automated production is more and more often being used to ensure that the application of fibre-reinforced plastics is effective.
The repair of composites also contributes to a sustainable society. ‘As soon as you can repair something, you no longer have to throw it out. This process saves a tremendous amount of waste’, explains Arnold Koetje, programme manager at Inholland Composites. ‘The car industry isn’t yet capable of this procedure at the moment. In truth, companies can only replace parts. Economically speaking, this situation is less than sustainable and very damaging to the environment. We already have decades of experience in aviation, which is why Inholland Composites can truly add value.’
Education benefits the market
Garages still lack experience when it comes to repairing fibre-reinforced plastics. As these materials are complex, their repair requires expert theoretical knowledge and specific practical skills. It is precisely in this regard that Inholland Composites played a key role by developing educational programmes.
Aeronautical Engineering students joined this effort to conduct practice-based research as part of work placement and graduation projects. Koetje: ‘In education, we ensure that the engineers of the future already gain experience in performing repairs and, even more importantly, that they understand the effectiveness of the repair type. Students who have worked with us are able to use their expertise and help companies such as KLM or the Air Force. In addition, the enterprising students are already busy making sure that their own innovative solutions are market-ready. Visiting companies are practically drooling as they watch our robot arm perform part of the repairs right in front of their eyes. Welcome to the 21st century!’
Huge demand for repair
Repair is an ongoing research theme at Inholland Composites, especially given the fact that the entire industry is now creating an urgent demand for this aspect. ‘Just think of all the aircraft which now use composites on a massive scale (Boeing 787, Airbus 350, NH90, JSF). The Netherlands must devote huge efforts to the repair of these materials in order to keep them affordable. We will continue to do so in all areas of application (wind energy, automotive, aviation, civil engineering, and so on) and we will improve education in these fields as a result.’
Inholland Composites is a ‘knowledge factory’ at Inholland and part of the Research & Innovation Centre in Technology, Design & Computer Science, where lecturer-researchers, professors and students work together on a research programme to solve social issues as well as contribute to a sustainable, healthy and creative society.