Philippe Papin from Poitiers, France, winning one of the European Commission's
Marie Curie fellowships was the stepping stone to a rewarding career in
industry. It has enabled him to participate in an award-winning project
to develop a revolutionary boat design, and could ultimately lead to a
role in international technology transfer.
scheme is part of the Commission's Human
Potential programme, providing financial assistance for post-graduate
students and PhDs to pursue approved projects in research institutes or
for intervention, Philippe had obtained his doctorate in materials science
at Poitiers University in 1997. He determined at an early stage that his
ambitions lay in an industrial, rather than an academic, direction. Consequently,
he sought to establish links with industry in order to pursue his thesis
on new materials for canoe construction.
- a St Gobain subsidiary specialising in glass fibre reinforcement - proved
a willing supporter. Its help enabled him to complete a doctoral study
that included an unusual combination of scientific and technical content.
A key conclusion was that the polypropylene/glass composite Twintex would
be an ideal candidate for robust canoe production.
a number of key reasons for focusing on this material. In particular,
it is formable by vacuum moulding at modest temperature and pressure -
and, unlike the glass-reinforced polyester used extensively throughout
the marine sector, it does not produce organic emissions posing health
and safety risks. The resultant constructions are also remarkably strong,
as well as being economical to manufacture.
was through the Vetrotex connection that Philippe's work came to the
attention of British boat-builder Halmatic, now a member of the Vosper
Thornycroft group. Both Halmatic and Vetrotex were involved in the
Brite-Euram project Envirocomp,
set up to examine the possibilities for manufacturing structures of
large surface area in environment-friendly thermoplastic composites.
prototype of a rigid/inflatable boat (RIB) designed for inshore
rescue, police and military use was one of four applications selected
for demonstration under Envirocomp. Recognising the contribution
that the young scientist could make, Halmatic informed him of their
interest and suggested that he seek funding under the Marie Curie
programme. Since this would enable him to build on his post-graduate
studies into novel usage of Twintex, Philippe readily agreed.
formal application involved preparing quite a sizeable dossier,"
he recalls. "But with a little assistance from Halmatic, this
was quickly accomplished - and the approval came in less than four
months." The ensuing grant provided for a two-year sojourn
in the UK as a member of the Envirocomp team, working on what would
be the first boat of its kind to be made in a thermoplastic composite.
initial seven-metre RIB prototype, with hull and deck mouldings
in Twintex, was found to be so tough that it proved impossible to
test to destruction. Presented at the world's leading event for
composites and new materials, the JEC Composites Show 2000 in Paris,
it collected a prestigious award for innovation in the transport
the end of the funded project period, Halmatic invited Philippe
to join its permanent staff as a Project Engineer. This will enable
him to see the RIB though to its eventual commercial realisation,
and then to embark on new ventures in which his research background
will certainly be of great value.
parallel with Envirocomp, he has already been involved in the development
of a five-metre assault boat based on the same technology. This
flat-bottomed craft is likely to be taken up in large numbers by
the British army. It is significantly lighter than current aluminium
designs, as well as being much stronger. An inspector reportedly
failed to damage it, even with the aid of a sledgehammer!
work here is highly satisfying, not only because the end-products
are very good, but also because my production colleagues are evidently
happy to be working in the cleaner, more pleasant conditions that
modern materials allow," Philippe observes.
future, he hopes to become involved in a technology transfer centre
that Halmatic is planning to set up in collaboration with its fellow
companies Euro-Projects Ltd and Vosper
Thornycroft. This would give even greater scope for involvement
with state-of-the-art materials and techniques in a broader industrial
on his experiences to date, Philippe maintains that his early determination
to forge links with the industrial sector clearly paid dividends
in achieving his own particular goals. "Having a clear objective
in mind and an identified organisation ready to offer a worthwhile
research post will certainly be advantageous to anyone like myself
who may be seeking to benefit from the Marie Curie programme,"
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