Composites at the heart of industrial transformation

19-03-2019

Composite materials are playing an increasingly important role in the global economy. This rapid growth is mainly based on the innovative strength of this sector and its players. The JECWorld 2019 exhibition, which was held in Paris from 12 to 14 March, was a great showcase for this subject, with more than 1,300 exhibitors from all over the world. Among them was a Luxembourg delegation that proudly displayed the country’s colours on the national pavilion, organised by the Ministry of the Economy.

Backed by the non-profit organisation Composite Industry Luxembourg (CIL), nine Luxembourg companies (AirTech, DuPont de Nemours, GLC Technologies, Goodyear, Glanzstoff, Molecular Plasma Group, e-Xstream, Ocsial and Reichert Technology Partners) presented their innovation in processes, new materials and composite solutions. All took advantage of the visibility provided by JEC to initiate contacts and identify potential partners.

For Paul Meyers, Managing Director and Works Director at DuPont de Nemours and President of the CIL, “Luxembourg clearly has a card to play, which is why we had to be present at this show. Launched just one year ago, the CIL needs to make a name for itself. “We are still in the start-up phase. JEC is a good tool to highlight both the strengths of the national composite industry and the country’s strengths. We made it off the starting blocks and we have made very good contacts. At this stage, we can’t talk about new members yet, but discussions are ongoing with several of them.

Playing in the big league

More and more participants each year agree that JEC World has become an essential tool for maintaining contacts and maintaining customer relations. “We can’t miss this meeting. For us, JEC is one of the best places to see all our international customers in one place. In parallel, we organised a conference focused on providing updates and a dinner to which the top management of our main customers was invited”, explains Roger Assaker, CEO of e-Xstream and member of the CIL.

The same is true for Caro Bach, Sales Director Aviation OEM at CTI Systems: “We had even more interesting discussions this year. It is not only sales that take place at the show, but sometimes it is a contact that leads to another business opportunity. For example, we met a very active fibre producer in France, China and the United States. We were not really interested in their products as such, but during the discussions, we learned that they have storage needs.

For Molecular Plasma Group, the presence at JEC has even been essential for the start-up’s growth. “Last year was our first participation in a composite exhibition and our visibility took off thanks to our presence on the Luxembourg pavilion. So we wanted to repeat the experience this year and hope to have the same success. Moreover, we can say that this was the case, with 50 meetings in three days, not to mention all the unplanned discussions. It was very intense,” says Régis Heyberger, CEO of MPG. “The advantage of being present on the Luxembourg stand is that it is small, but with the ability to be able to welcome customers as if we were sizeable..

Another CIL member, Russian Ocsial, presented its solutions based on carbon nanotubes, which offer unique antistatic properties. Located in Siberia, China and the United States, the company plans to expand its infrastructure in Luxembourg with the construction of a new production and research site planned for 2020 in Differdange, with the creation of some 200 jobs. “Our presence at the YCW is very important to become known. We come not only to sell our product, but also to sell technological innovation,” says Nicolas Flandrin-Jones, Marketing & Communication EMEA for Ocsial. “We also come to feel the pulse of market trends”, essential to remain competitive according to him.

“Assemble, assist and expand”

The need for composite materials is greatly increasing, now covering almost all sectors such as the automotive, nautical, renewable energy, land transport, mechanics, construction, chemistry and medical sectors. Trends emerged at the show, particularly in 3D printing of composites. The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) took advantage of its presence at JEC on the CIL stand to sign a partnership agreement with Anisoprint, a Russian start-up recently established in Luxembourg that has developed its own patented 3D continuous fibre printing technology.

Another observation is that the quest for intelligent and responsible composites has also been officially launched. The theme of thermoplastics was highlighted at the show, with the desire to use more ecological materials and develop ever lighter, more efficient, durable and recyclable fibres. “Thermoplastic materials could gradually replace some thermosetting materials,” says Caroline Muller, manager of the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster. In any case, it is an objective defined by an increasing number of actors seeking to achieve a better “performance-cycle-cost-sustainability” ratio.

Another notable trend was the increased presence of raw material suppliers at the exhibition. “It may be one of the only major links in the value chain that we lack in Luxembourg, but we have nothing to be ashamed of, because the country is very well placed in new technologies and high-tech composites,” says Caroline Muller. The Luxembourg Ambassador to France, Martine Schommer, visiting the Luxembourg pavilion, also confirmed the dynamism of the national ecosystem and its significant attraction for foreign investors and companies, like Turkey which, despite an almost complete value chain, is seeking to develop new partnerships. “We were approached during the show by the Turkish Composites Manufacturers Association for the development of collaborative projects,” confirms Caroline Muller. Its large market of €1.5 billion makes Turkey a very good partner for CIL members and more broadly for Luxembourg. We will analyse the 120 Turkish companies in the association and why not jointly organise a matchmaking event. There are many interesting synergies to be explored. The prospects in terms of composites are endless and playing alone at the national level is no longer sufficient. This is where the strength of CIL lies: to assemble, accompany and expand.

On all fronts

Between the creation of the asbl Composite Industry Luxembourg (CIL), cross-sectoral projects and partnerships in the Greater Region, the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster achieved strong results in 2018 spread over a wide variety of activities.

Caroline MullerThe 365 days of 2018 were not too long for the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster. On top of the 22 events organised or co-organised, the involvement of its 80 members in the various projects initiated is testimony to its dynamism.

One of the highlights of the year was undoubtedly the creation of the asbl Composite Industry Luxembourg (CIL) in February. This brings together the main Luxembourg players active in the field of composite materials and its objective is to develop collaborative research projects and promote them internationally. “Six research topics have already been defined, such as the recycling of composite materials or the development of multifunctional surfaces,” says Caroline Muller, the Materials & Manufacturing cluster manager at Luxinnovation. “The association has nine members, established firms, as well as start-ups, and we are now working on a technical roadmap for 2019.”

The Greater Region in the spotlight

The cluster’s efforts have also focused on the creation of cross-sectoral projects. Among these, we can mention the workshop organised with the Wood Cluster to facilitate interaction and possible collaboration between actors in these two fields. The main aim is to help the wood sector to digitise itself based on the experience acquired in the manufacturing sector.

Another notable cross-sectoral project, in collaboration with the Ecoinnovation cluster, is the Plastic Loop. It has been designed to open up evaluation and development paths around the flow and recycling of plastic materials in Luxembourg. First developed at the national level, this initiative has been linked to a European project involving actors from the Greater Region.

In parallel, the Materials & Manufacturing Cluster has committed to support several Interreg cross-border initiatives. One of them, in which the Luxembourg University is already involved, is the Fafil project, which focuses on additive manufacturing by yarn deposition. Another is the Prodpilot project, centered on industry 4.0 and more particularly on the identification of expertise and needs in this field at the Greater Region level.


Anticipating new industry trends and needs

Helping Luxembourg industry stay on top of new industry trends and acquire the technology and skills needed to retain a competitive edge is essential for the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster. Luxinnovation spoke to Cluster President Georges Thielen about the development of the cluster and his ambitions for the future.

Georges ThielenMr Thielen, the Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster was set up around 15 years ago. How has the cluster evolved over these years?

“The cluster started in 2003 when 10 industrial companies and two public research centres joined forces to work on applied research. Focusing on the development of surface technologies for industrial manufacturing and assembling processes in the fields of metals, glass and polymers, their work laid the foundations for today’s centre of excellence in surface treatment, characterisation of materials and plasma technologies at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

The scope of the cluster was extended in 2008, from applied research to materials in general, and the membership grew to 30 companies. In 2012, the cluster integrated with the Luxembourg Cluster Initiative put in place by the Ministry of the Economy and Luxinnovation. We widened the scope even further to materials and manufacturing industries, which allowed us to make a further, very significant growth of our membership base. Today, we have over 80 industry members, ranging from SMEs to large industrial groups.

I got involved in the cluster in 2010 and have been the cluster president since then. This role was a perfect fit for me, as I was at that time in charge of building up the open innovation organisation at the Goodyear Innovation Center in Luxembourg. For me, the cluster president is a federator. I facilitate the communication among our members as well as with external parties such as the presidents of the other Luxembourg clusters, authorities and funding agencies. My work complements that of the full-time cluster manager who is employed by Luxinnovation.”

What are the priority themes of the cluster?

“The main role of the cluster is to anticipate, in the best way possible, new industry trends and needs. We carry out a thoughtful gap analysis as a basis for developing value propositions and implementing new actions with high impact, both in Luxembourg and in the Greater Region. Priority themes include automation, robotisation, Industry 4.0 and composite materials. We aim not just to react to every new buzzword but to implement actions in fields that are sustainable over the long term.

Focusing on start-ups and new industrial companies arriving in Luxembourg, in a manner that is coherent with our processes and analyses, is a high priority for me. A second priority is to intensify our collaboration with public research, in particular the University of Luxembourg and LIST. The proportion of our members that truly benefits from cooperation with public research is still too low. An open innovation approach is key: the cluster members are by definition open to interact with others, and if they need additional skills in science and technology to innovate these can ideally be sourced from the public research organisations. We want to increase the awareness and understanding of this collaboration potential.”

What do you see as the main added value of the cluster for its members?

“We facilitate collaboration and run cross-sector projects, including marketing studies and technology watch, which the great majority of our members benefit from. We also organise events as well as marketing and communication initiatives. I would like to further develop this joint platform into a fully developed technology platform that can have an impact both in Luxembourg and in the Greater Region.

In addition, we undertake specific business development actions and implement flagship projects uniting a high proportion of our company members as well as the public research sector that is fully integrated into the cluster. One of our first flagship projects was the National Composite Centre – Luxembourg (NCC-L) that closely collaborates with the Luxembourg Composite Industry Group which has been recently created and has its roots in the cluster. Other ongoing projects focus on robotisation, automation, Industry 4.0 and additive manufacturing.

It is also essential for the cluster to remain close to the daily challenges of the sector and provide locally sourced solutions. For this reason, a cluster advisory group composed of volunteer cluster members was set up in 2018 to work on current industry issues and best practice sharing.”

The Materials & Manufacturing Cluster played a key role in the creation of the NCC-L and the associated Composite Industry Luxembourg group. How will this initiative contribute to the development of the sector?

“The idea of creating a composites centre originally came from Luxembourg’s high committee for industry development and was further developed together with companies. Luxinnovation and the cluster strongly contributed to the set-up of the centre that is operated by LIST with the main goal of providing new solutions supporting industry needs. We want the NCC-L to develop into a renowned technology platform with scientific and technological excellence of true value for business. It is also a means for profiling Luxembourg expertise in composite materials at the international level and initiating collaboration with main international players in the field.”

Does the role of the cluster extend beyond the borders of Luxembourg?

“Yes, it does. Our current horizon is mainly national, but we are preparing an ambitious plan targeting the Greater Region. We aim to continue building high impact partnerships with relevant clusters as well as stimulating direct interaction between cluster members in Luxembourg and our neighbouring regions. Many of them already have relationships with both companies and public research bodies elsewhere in the Greater Region. My vision is to see some organisations from the Greater Region, carefully chosen based on our gap analysis, join the Materials & Manufacturing Cluster in the future.”