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Automotive industry saves millions with Dutch software Big breakthrough for TriboForm Engineering

This week marks the official launch of the software product from TriboForm Engineering, a University of Twente start-up. Launching customers Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and Skoda develop components such as automotive bonnets and doors using software produced by the fast-growing start-up from Enschede. Director and founder Jan Harmen Wiebenga calls it a dream. ‘When we see those cars on the road, we realize we contributed to making them. That gives us a great feeling.’

Demand for the TriboForm software is tremendous. The start-up now serves a large part of the European automotive industry. TriboForm produces software packages for friction modelling and predicting tribological behaviour. Tribology is a branch of mechanical engineering that describes the contact between materials under different conditions. The software is used in the development and production of new automotive parts.

The official launch of the product will take place this week in Germany, the heart of the global automotive industry. TriboForm will launch the product at the Triboforum 2016, a triennial industry conference. The company will do so together with the principal engineers from Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. At the request of the Volkswagen group, a pre-presentation of the software was held in Hannover with experts from Porsche, Seat, Audi, Volkswagen and Skoda. It shows the great interest for the software.

Road to success

Wiebenga started TriboForm in 2013 with his collaborator Johan Hol during their doctoral research at the University of Twente. TriboForm has since grown to six people and is now located at Kennispark Twente in Enschede. ‘We have far-reaching ambitions. With the launch of our software product we are entering a new growth phase,’ says Wiebenga. ‘Competition in the auto industry is fierce, which drives the need for innovative software products like ours.’

Unique software technology

While many start-ups mainly establish ties with automotive companies’ R&D departments, TriboForm is actually involved in the production of the latest cars. According to Technical Director Johan Hol, this is due to the uniqueness of the software technology. ‘Our software is primarily used in the automotive industry, for the simulation of friction, lubrication, and wear in production processes for new car parts, such as a bonnet, door, or fender. This enables automotive companies and suppliers to produce high-quality parts in a time- and cost-efficient way. There was nothing of the kind available at this level.’

Scientific research

The TriboForm software of is based on many years of research at the University of Twente. Wiebenga and Hol took their doctoral degree at the Department of Engineering Mechanics (Prof Ton van den Boogaard), within the Faculty of Engineering Technology, and still have close contact with the faculty. The link with UT and also Saxion University of Applied Sciences was a reason for the duo to remain in Enschede. ‘Only then can we continue to rapidly grow as a company. Moreover, Germany is just around the corner, and that also plays a big role,’ says Johan Hol.

Great future

For Wiebenga and Hol, who have car doors from the new Volvo XC90 and Mercedes-Benz C-class decorating their offices, this is just the beginning. ‘Our ultimate goal is for our product to become the standard for automotive development worldwide. And we intend to move beyond the automotive industry as well.’

To financially support the growth spurt, various parties want to invest in the company. Also because there is much interest in the software outside the automotive industry.