Remko Akkerman believes that thermoplastic composites could be a gamechanger
‘Everything is made of something and all of that needs to be produced in some way. Developing a product in either concrete, wood, metal or plastic requires completely different processes and designs.’ Remko Akkerman, professor in Production Technology at the UT, studies properties of various materials and optimizes their production and use. ‘That way we can make production and materials lighter, more efficient and environmentally friendly.’
Within his research group and as the scientific director of the ThermoPlastic Composite Research Centre (TPRC) hosted by the UT, Akkerman focuses on composite materials, specifically thermoplastics. ‘These fibre reinforced plastics have significant advantages compared to others,’ explains the scientist. ‘Thermoplastics become pliable at higher temperatures. They are like chocolate that you can melt, shape, solidify and melt again if you like. Such a process is very fast and doesn’t require any chemistry, which also makes it more environmentally friendly. Shaping, forming, but also welding and re-shaping or re-cycling are thus rather straightforward, theoretically. However, thermoplastics are still relatively new. We try to advance their use.’
Professor Akkerman believes that thermoplastic composites could be a gamechanger for the aerospace industry in particular. ‘More than 50% of the weight of Boeing 737 comprises fibre reinforced plastics and the use of these materials will only increase. Aircraft manufacturing will keep growing, assuming our current crisis is temporary, and there is already a huge backlog now. There is a true need to speed up the production and I believe that thermoplastic composites are the best way to achieve that.’ The scientist is using his expertise to ensure this can be done. ‘The material is there, but making something out of it is a different ballgame. There are hurdles in the production process that we need to overcome. The material shows uncontrolled behaviour. Our job is to develop better understanding, better ways of working and controllable, predictable processes to get the production on track.’
‘Ultimately, I hope I can make the world a slightly better place by using the knowledge we have. Through my research, I can contribute to more efficient and greener transportation, whether that is aircrafts or cars.’ Remko Akkerman enjoys seeing the results of his work applied in practice. ‘The Aniform company is a spin-off which was created as a result of our research. It offers software that helps designers make their process and tools better. It sells licenses worldwide. Even Boeing uses this software, for example. I like to see that this application helps others to move their products further. In the end, my job is not to make products but to make it possible for others to do so.’
As a teacher of Mechanical Engineering, Akkerman always tries to merge research and education. ‘I think it generates the most internal motivation. For student assignments, I get examples from my contact with companies. Thermoplastics and other fibre-reinforced plastics might not be well-known or even visible to a regular civilian, but they are very handy and often crucial. They are used in aircrafts, cars and sports products, for example. I try to explain this relevance and relate the study material to the real world. Overall, I want my students to learn to be curious and to make solutions out of ideas. We need to educate young people to further society and industry.’
Remko Akkerman is full professor in Production Technology in the department of Mechanics of Solids, Surfaces & Systems (MS3) of the Faculty of Engineering Technology. He has spent his entire academic career at the University of Twente, where he obtained his master degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1988, as well as his PhD on viscoelastic flow simulations in 1993. Afterwards, he started working as an assistant professor in the chair of Engineering Design in Plastics and in 2003 he was appointed as full professor in Production Technology. His research focuses on lightweight materials for structural applications, with a clear emphasis on composite materials. Since June 2009, Akkerman also serves as the scientific director of the ThermoPlastic composite Research Centre, founded by Ten Cate, Fokker, Boeing and the University of Twente.
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