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#TPRCminds: Yannick Buser

From LEGO to thermoplastic composites

As a child, TPRC’s Yannick Buser would get totally absorbed in constructing model buildings, making things from cardboard, paint and glue, and in being generally creative. Back then, like so many other children, he played with ‘old school’ materials such as LEGO. These days, he’s swapped his old building blocks for the material of the future – thermoplastic composites. Yannick left his home town of Vinkeveen a couple of years ago, to study mechanical engineering in Twente. He’s been here ever since, and is now a few months into his PhD research project at TPRC.

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 Jeroen (Research Engineer), Wouter (Assistant professor), Ramona (PhD Researcher), Sebastiaan (AniForm Engineering), Jagadeesh (PhD Researcher), Vanessa (PhD Researcher), and Emiel (Research Engineer).

“It was always fairly clear that I would pursue a career in engineering. I felt attracted to physics and making stuff, and my parents always encouraged me to do that”, says Yannick. “Before committing myself, I took a peek behind the scenes at various universities. I found Twente the most appealing by far. It is a relatively small-scale, welcoming university. Lecturers know their students by name, and they always make time for you. I am happy to say that I have encountered that same open, friendly atmosphere and personal approach here at TPRC.”

After he had outgrown his LEGO sets, it was not exactly a foregone conclusion that Yannick would get involved in thermoplastic composites. When he went off to do an internship, he was still unsure whether he should opt for the metal industry or a career in composites. “In the end, the challenge of a rapidly expanding field of study was the deciding factor. Composites have a promising future, yet working with them often requires an unconventional and creative way of thinking. This industry is not going to run out of challenges anytime soon. In the course of my degree programme, under the guidance of Laurent Warnet (a lecturer here at the University of Twente), I started an internship at TPRC.”

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Pride in industrial relevance

During his internship, Yannick worked on Tjitse Slange’s PhD research project, which was approaching its final stage. “I started by working on an aircraft wing demonstrator that was being used to illustrate the industrial relevance of Tjitse’s research outcomes. In the space of six months, I designed and produced that demonstrator, which involved linking two different production techniques.”

One of these techniques was ‘laser-assisted fiber placement’ (‘fiber placement’ for short, or just LAFP), and the other was ‘stamp forming’. Yannick explains that “In the first process, the starting material is a roll of fiber-reinforced tape. Our fiber placement robot uses this material in much the same way as a 3D printer uses filament. Lengths of tape are cut off the roll, after which a laser melts (glues) them onto the right spot. In this way, you can use the robot to print plates consisting of many layers of that fiber-reinforced tape. These are certainly not always high-quality finished products. In industrial settings, such a product is currently baked in an autoclave, a high-pressure oven, for several hours or, in some cases, almost a day. The final result is a great finished product. This process requires loads of time, money and energy. That’s why we tried out a different production technique – stamp forming. This process enables you to stamp your flat sheet into a three-dimensional shape in just a few minutes. The pressure involved creates a finished product of the same high quality as those that have spent hours in an autoclave. That’s a huge advantage. This is a major step forward in terms of industrialising the production of thermoplastic composites.”

“In 2018, we attended ITHEC in Bremen – the international conference and exhibition on thermoplastic composites. Tjitse Slange won the best paper award. I was enormously proud. The very project that I had been working on all that time was being showered with praise by the industry. How cool is that?”

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The best of both worlds

Following his successful internship, TPRC naturally asked Yannick if he wanted to stay on. If so, there was a place for him on a research project for Boeing (one of TPRC’s partners). He stayed on, but later decided to return to academia. “For the moment, that’s where my heart is. I’m currently working on the properties of materials for the induction welding process. How do you tackle the challenges involved in predicting and measuring electrical conductivity and heat generation in composites? The task of characterising materials for this welding technology involves a combination of practical applications and academic research, so it’s the best of both worlds! This makes my work really relevant, which is enormously motivating and a lot of fun. I’ve been entrusted with a great deal of personal responsibility and plenty of challenges.”

Societal responsibility

As a millennial, Yannick is keenly aware of the times in which we live, and of the collective ecological footprint that we leave behind. It is seldom far from his mind. “Here at TPRC, we do a lot of work for the aircraft industry, and planes consume huge amounts of fossil fuels. I want to do something about that. We are not going to give up flying anytime soon, so we need to find ways of building lighter aircraft and cargo planes that can transport more freight. As an engineer, I feel that I am accountable to the entire world. For me, it’s not about prestige and landing the best possible job. I want my work to have added value for society as a whole. We are generating knowledge that will help us create a cleaner world. As part of this effort, I’ve been given an expert role within a young and enthusiastic team. I’ve tackled various projects, including some for our partners. One of the topics discussed in my frequent meetings with Boeing is how their production process could be made more mature. They always listen carefully to my advice. That feels really great. We also have a fantastic lab, no bureaucracy, and a lot of freedom. Right now, I really don’t know what else I could wish for.”

Single-seater

At the start of what promises to be a very active professional life, Yannick occasionally takes time to reflect on the future of his chosen field of study. “More extensive automation of the processes involved would enable us to cut the production costs of thermoplastic composites. This material would then become a much more commercially attractive proposition for the automotive industry. And things do seem to be going that way. Also, I sometimes imagine the use of these materials in personal aviation, in other words, single-seater aeroplanes or drones. People are already working on this, including some at various universities of technology in the Netherlands. Jetpacks, flying cars – those sort of things. Here too, thermoplastic composites may have an important part to play, given the potential cost savings and environmental benefits involved. It would be fun to make a contribution to this field in the future.”

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#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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