First Time Right: students steal composite show in Paris

Ambitious composite project offers new insights for shipbuilding

Boat building can be smarter, more innovative, with less waste and less dangerous working conditions. Inholland Composites spent the past two years studying how, thanks in part to a RAAK MKB grant. An ambitious project involving 54 students in different programmes at different universities of applied science and the industry. And with the ultimate grand finale: a proud presentation of the results in Paris during the JEC World International Composites Show, the largest composites trade fair in the world.

Leestijd: +- 5 minuten

Back at the Delft Composites Lab, programme manager Arnold Koetje and co-project leaders Rogier Nijssen (professor of Composites) and Antoine Gerritse (Inholland Composites team leader) basked in the glow of those triumphant days in the French capital. Justifiably so, considering the many positive reactions from the international field. Another important detail: the necessary key stakeholders were impressed, too. Executive government official Maarten Kamps from Economic Affairs and Marc Hendrikse, the standard bearer for the High Tech Systems and Materials (HTSM) sector, were on hand to meet the research team. Marcus Kremers, chairman of the industry association CompositesNL and CTO at Airborne, accepted the research findings in order to further disseminate the knowledge amongst the Dutch network. The Dutch embassy in Paris was also represented, with innovation attaché Nico Schiettekatte in attendance.


Considerable interest in Paris
Arnold and his co-project leaders Rogier Nijssen (professor of Composites) and Antoine Gerritse (Inholland Composites team leader) had a great set-up with the students. In Paris, together with many other Dutch entrepreneurs, they occupied a prominent place in the Holland High Tech pavilion, and there was even more attention than usual because the Netherlands was the theme country during the fair. This is a huge fair, filled with representatives from governments, companies and knowledge institutes. In addition, the First Time Right project group had opted for an interactive approach, and the 'shop' provided a steady stream of curious visitors.

Arnold Koetje gestured behind him to the Hydra1, the electrical composite surfboard that they made specifically for the occasion. And the 'The First Time Right SmartMould', a ‘smart’ mould construction for demonstrating a new innovative infusion process for manufacturing composites. At the fair, visitors also had the opportunity to 'build a surfboard' wearing a VR headset.

Arnold Koetje, programme manager Inholland Composites
What more could you ask for: you're right there in the middle of a show surrounded by all of the high-tech composite companies. On top of that you have the chance to present what you have developed! It's impossible to get more satisfaction from your work than that, if you ask me.
Arnold Koetje, programme manager Inholland Composites

A fantastic week in the midst of the industry
'We were amongst the few that had brought tangible things', which drew a lot of attention. 'Being there with a young, enthusiastic and dynamic team with such an enviable presence worked to our advantage, too. It was a fantastic week, including for the students themselves, of course. What more could you ask for: you're right there in the middle of a show surrounded by all of the high-tech composite companies. On top of that you have the chance to present what you have developed! It's impossible to get more satisfaction from your work than that, if you ask me'.

The results of the development were no magic trick. Just like other Inholland Composites projects, First Time Right stems from general demand in which the aviation, shipbuilding and wind energy sectors are involved and where innovation is needed. And how practice-oriented research, education and the business community can tackle this so that they all benefit from it.

Innovation in the maritime sector
First Time Right focuses on innovation in the maritime sector, specifically on small and mid-sized businesses involved in yacht building. 'The automation of composite production, inspection and repair is undergoing major development', said professor Rogier Nijssen. 'This usually concerns large series - true mass production, where the challenge is to earn back large, expensive installations. In First Time Right, we wanted to focus on small series and one-offs. The business case consequently becomes very different and that makes this project very challenging and interesting'. Antoine Gerritse added: A nice extra is that we were able to link the automation steps to Augmented Reality. In Paris we were one of only two players who could demonstrate this as a working system'.

Organise your process so that you do it right in one go
To keep up in a booming boat market, it is important to innovate smart. How can it be done faster, with less waste, fewer people and less dangerous working conditions? Arnold clarified: 'In shipbuilding, they are already very good at composites. Many boats are made of composite and Dutch yacht builders are well-versed in every aspect of the craft and make the most beautiful products. But when you see how they do that and how they apply the latest techniques, they lag behind'.

Then it would be nice if you made something in one go that is "first time right"'. Arnold: 'It's like making pancakes. The first one is never good, and you really don't want that. Certainly not when it's a boat you're making. It contains a cubic meter of resin, and a couple of football pitches' of fibres. If that goes wrong and you have to throw it away, it's not only a shame but also bad for the environment. You have to arrange your engineering process so that you do everything right the first time'.

For example, it is still very common to have 15 to 20 people in the boat during the "casting" of the composite to make sure that "the resin" flows evenly into the mould. First Time Right introduces mixed reality applications, which essentially allow you to do it by yourself. A VR headset, HoloLens and camera are now the eyes.

People and machines increasingly working together
The techniques and means mentioned can also be used for training purposes. In boat building, knowledge is traditionally shared according to the master and apprentice principle. Although this original master's knowledge is still certainly needed, you can digitise it to a large extent. Once it has been 'saved', you can learn from the computer or simulation software. In the future, you will even be able to skip certain exercises. After all, you are no longer the expect; the VR headset or robot arm is.

Arnold Koetje is not, however, worried about people disappearing from the process. Rather, it is smarter to have robots perform certain tasks. 'As a person, you no longer want to remove tomatoes from the conveyor belt that are not good. Robots are much better at it. But we are still a long way off from a greenhouse that has electricity cables and water pipes going in and tomatoes coming out. People will always be needed to invent and implement the processes. People and machines will work together more and more intensively'.

New insights into 'old' material
In addition, a study was conducted using a reusable type of vacuum bag, which are widely used in the composite industry. The industry had tried it in the past but was not really enthusiastic. Thanks to First Time Right, this product has been further developed and presented to entrepreneurs, who now see the benefit of it. 'You can work with it faster, packing takes less time and you don't have to search for air leaks. It generates less waste, too. There are only advantages, in other words'.

A dynamic learning community
The project presented a challenging setting for students who joined from a variety of disciplines. The Inholland degree programmes Aeronautical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Structural Engineering, Computer Science, Industrial Engineering and Management and various programmes at other universities of applied sciences were represented in the main project and the various sub-projects. Together they formed a dynamic learning community with promising results.

Just like at the fair in Paris, response from the field has been positive. The innovation to the infusion process is especially popular. Inholland Composites was also approached to further develop the Mixed Reality application for use in the manufacturing of wind turbine blades. Arnold: 'Fellow universities of applied sciences have shown great interest, too. First Time Right is giving educational development a new impulse. Based on these experiences we can further convince the industry'.

A knowledge workshop avant la lettre
First Time Right is a crowning glory of Inholland Composites, the collaboration between the Composites Lab and the Composite research focus area. The practical lab, which was originally established in Haarlem, turns 31 this year, making it one of Inholland's first knowledge workshops. It has since developed into a learning and research community that exerts a strong attraction.

Arnold, himself a former Aeronautical Engineering student, is of course a fixture and proud. 'Students in secondary vocational education, students in higher professional education, doctoral candidates, entrepreneurs: everyone is welcome here. In fact, we are so popular that in some cases we have to say no. You can see that it's working. You can put students in lecture halls, but it's so much better to give them a challenge in a stimulating work environment. An amazing place where you can really learn something’.

This research is co-funded by the Taskforce for Applied Research, which is part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

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