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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Materials & technologies > Riding on a tide of success
Graphic element Riding on a tide of success

For 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.

The fellowship 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 industry.

Before applying 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.

The Chambéry-based Vetrotex - 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.

There were 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.

Invitation to join
It 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.

The 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.

"My 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.

The 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 sector.

Permanent position

At 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.

In 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!

"The 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.

In 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 context.

Commenting 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," he advises.


Dr Philippe Papin
Halmatic Ltd.
Porchester Shipyard
Hamilton Road
Hants. PO6 4QB
Tel:+44 2392 539 600
Fax: :+44 2392 539 601


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Permanent position

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