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#TPRCminds: Ramona Sitohang

'The visits to the partners were really inspiring’

In episode 4 you can read about Ramona Sitohang from Indonesia, PhD candidate at the TPRC since 2017. For Ramona, the end of her PhD research at the ThermoPlastic composite Research Center (TPRC) is in sight. She has learned a lot in her time at the TPRC, both about thermoplastic composites and about what it’s like to live and work in Enschede.

Also in these #TPRCminds series: interviews with Jeroen (Research Engineer), Wouter (Assistant professor), Yannick (PhD Researcher), Sebastiaan (AniForm Engineering), Jagadeesh (PhD Researcher), Vanessa (PhD Researcher), and Emiel (Research Engineer).

During her MSc in Materials Engineering at the University of Leuven in Belgium, Ramona Sitohang heard good things about the University of Twente and the TPRC. “Before I came to the TPRC I had only been to the Netherlands once, as a tourist, and I knew nothing at all about Enschede. The composites world is pretty small, so you tend to meet the same people. A lot of those people were from Twente, and even my professor in Leuven came from the University of Twente. I wanted to go further in this occupation, so I realized early on that I wanted to take this leap.”

That leap earned her a PhD position, even though when she finished her Master’s degree she was still not sure that she specifically wanted to delve deeper into thermoplastic composites. “I went back to Indonesia, and worked there for a short while as an engineering consultant. I soon began to miss the research, and I decided to apply for this PhD position. That was more than three-and-a-half years ago, and it was the best decision of my life. Thermoplastic composites are the future, and the TPRC is a great place, even for someone like me who’s not from here.”

Ramona 3

A lot of people think that obtaining a doctoral degree involves interminable theoretical studies and loneliness. What was it like for you?

“First of all, it helps that I’m incredibly curious, and that I always want to discover new things. Of course there were difficult moments, especially now in my final year when I’m spending most of my time writing. But the big advantage is that, as a PhD candidate with the TPRC, you experience a really practical, future-oriented approach. We have direct contact with the industry, and I really get the feeling that my research into the defects from production technique of stamp forming is contributing to the application of thermoplastic composites. I identify the minuscule anomalies in the materials we produce using this technique, to make it possible to determine whether those anomalies are acceptable in terms of the mechanical performance. My project is contributing to our fundamental material understanding of thermoplastic composites. I’m really looking forward to my PhD thesis defence.”

Impressive field trips

Ramona’s enthusiasm for her subject area was awakened when she made several visits to TPRC’s partners during the first year of her PhD programme. “I got to look behind the scenes at GKN Fokker and TenCate Advanced Composites, which is now Toray Advanced Composites,” Ramona remembers. “We have a high-tech research lab at the TPRC, but it was also really impressive to see the production lines at those big companies: those machines making all those aircraft components, which also use thermoplastic composites, or the laminates used in the finished products. How cool is that? And I got to hear about the problems they face, which I included in my research.”

Ramona 2

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in nearly four years of PhD research at the TPRC?

“Aside from the actual substance of my research and specific techniques like image analysis, at the TPRC I’ve learned the true meaning of teamwork. Most of the researchers at the TPRC are quite young and hugely curious and motivated. Socially, we’re a really close-knit group, and the company culture is informal. In Indonesia you would never call your supervisor by his or her first name, but you do here. Here, I’m treated as an equal. Another thing is that, as a PhD candidate in Indonesia, you’re often stuck on a little island inside a university; I don’t get that feeling here at all. After my PhD, I hope I can find a position where I can keep working this way.”

Ramona 1

The aircraft industry can set an example

“At the moment, the thermoplastic composites is still something of a private party for high-tech industries, especially aviation and the automotive industry. Ramona doesn’t think they will become an everyday sight for the near future. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the aircraft industry can set an example for other industries. Let’s start by making sure it gets embraced more widely, and then we can start looking at other fields such as professional sports. Thermoplastic composites are for example already being used in the frames of racing bikes.”

Cycling to TPRC

Although Enschede is very different from her home city of Bandung on the island of Java, Indonesia, which has over a million residents, Ramona has gotten used to life here. She appreciates what she’s got. “It took me a while to get used to it. Bandung is a lot busier – there’s always something going on in the street. It’s greener and quieter here, although I do miss being able to get street food wherever you go. I walk and cycle a lot more now; I cycle to TPRC, and I really enjoy it. That said, I don’t want things to get too peaceful. If it looks like that’s about to happen, my colleagues at the TPRC are always there to wake me up. Enschede has a pretty big Indonesian community, mainly thanks to the university, and that makes me feel even more at home.”

#TPRCminds

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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Learn more about the TPRC

The TPRC is a consortium of industrial and academic members active in the thermoplastic composites industry. The TPRC believes in thermoplastic composites as the material for lightweight manufacturing in large volumes. The primary aim of the TPRC is to enable a more widespread use of thermoplastic composites by eliminating technological barriers.