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#TPRCminds: Jeroen Houwers

‘For me, TPRC is both a job and a hobby’

The TPRC has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. The TPRC, which started out small with just a few researchers, has since developed considerably. The key to this success? TPRC’s people, without whose expertise and drive there would be no future.

Read other #TPRCminds interviews with Wouter (Assistant professor), Yannick (PhD Researcher), Ramona (PhD Researcher), Sebastiaan (AniForm Engineering), Jagadeesh (PhD Researcher), Vanessa (PhD Researcher), and Emiel (Research Engineer).

Last year en route to his holiday destination, Jeroen Houwers was assigned the perfect seat on board. “Next to the window, above the wing. I was able to see straight into the aircraft engine”, he explains. “I looked for the mechanism necessary to reverse airflow during landing, causing the engines to slow down the aircraft. Often, these parts are still milled from metal. Here at the TPRC, we have shown that they can also be made from thermoplastic composites. Their demonstrator is used by our partners such as Toray Advanced Composites to show their clients the options composites have to offer. The world of aviation is fairly conservative so application could take a while, but I enjoyed spending the entire flight staring at that engine. It’s a great feeling that my innovations might someday be visible in daily life!”

TPRC Minds Jeroen

Where it started: Solar Team Twente
The production technique Jeroen is working on, called overmolding, is relatively new. Overmolding is a hybrid production process which combines thermoform press and an injection molding machine to create fiber reinforced parts at a high production rate. Jeroen is a pioneer in this field of study. He is partly responsible for the fact that multinationals such as Boeing, Toray Advanced Composites and GKN Fokker are embracing thermoplastic composites. His pioneering efforts began when he was a member of the Solar Team Twente student team, that travels to Australia once every two years to take part in the World Solar Challenge with a solar vehicle they design themselves. “The adventure of a lifetime. I worked on the vehicle’s composite design and was thus introduced to researchers of the University of Twente in that field. I also became acquainted with TPRC through my membership of the Solar Team Twente. I was immediately drawn to this world and it continues to fascinate me. Before, I was a student at Saxion, combining mechanical engineering and industrial design as part of my programme. This allowed me, a die-hard engineer, to also focus on a creative process, something that benefits me to this day in my current job. Over the years, six former Solar Team members also joined TPRC and that team is still a tight-knit group.”

What are you mainly working on at TPRC?
“Thermoplastic composites are still quite novel. My main focus is the industrialisation of processes and the accompanying production techniques. There is a lot of undiscovered territory left both in theory and in practice. How do you ensure certain materials stay fixed in a high-temperature oven (around 400°C) so you can shape and process them as needed? You'll need a suitable clamping system, that the material and at the same time allows the material to form in to the desired shape. A delicate balance that requires a fair amount of investigative work. We are truly frontrunners in our field of study and that motivates me tremendously. The expertise we gain gets shared with as many partners as possible. That’s what we’re here for. Together we go through almost the entire process, from testing to the final result. I get to see what happens to my brainchild.”

TPRC Minds Jeroen 6975

Jeroen, Research Engineer

You already mentioned that your job includes a lot of investigative work. Are you given the time and scope to do everything you need to do?
“The TPRC organisational structure is horizontal and you are given as much freedom as possible. If you have a good idea, go pursue it. And if something doesn’t pan out, it’s no big deal. You just shrug it off and move on. I’m not your typical research engineer. I like to create and manufacture the things I invent. This process allows me to keep learning. In other companies person A invents something, person B creates it, person C builds it, and D carries out tests. That’s not necessary here. Nevertheless, this freedom sometimes proves to be a pitfall. The process only works if you’re all equally dedicated.”

TPRC has grown considerably in recent years. Have there been any changes to the daily practice in the office?
“No, the company culture has remained the same. That’s quite unusual, come to think of it. We have had lots of new employees and doctoral candidates have come and gone. But we still have the freedom to learn and experiment.”
Jeroen is also personally responsible for ensuring that those doctoral candidates do not go quietly into the night after their four years of PhD research are up. He introduced the ‘Flans Gift’, a tradition that originated from the UT and has turned into a slightly out-of-control hobby project. “It’s a creative kind of farewell present that is tailored to each individual. We literally flans something together, hence the name. In the beginning, it would take no more than an evening to throw together, and usually consisted of something with a button and a light. Now the devices have become a little more complex such as the recent camera that, like a Polaroid camera, is able to print photographs immediately on receipt paper, the Flansoroid 3000. It’s become a fun and innovative tradition and we are always trying to raise the bar.”

TPRC Minds Jeroen 6998

What are your dreams for the future?
“I can see that lightweight materials and thermoplastic composites are gaining more traction in the entire mobility issue. This is very interesting to me and I believe it can also be of assistance in finding a solution to our growing transportation problem. For example the use of drones for deliveries of goods and transport of persons. A whole new sector in addition to traditional aviation. Our expertise and the materials we use could prove to be a huge advantage there.”

Our series #TPRCminds introduces you to the people behind our success. Who are they? What is
their background? What drives them and what do they dream about? How do they look at the future of thermoplastic composites?

Continue reading other #TPRCminds episodes:

Photos ©Gijs van Ouwerkerk

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