Belgians at JEC Europe 2015: "You always discover something new here"

Agoria and Sirris announced the launch of CFK Valley Belgium at this year's JEC Europe, the international composites show held in Paris. But there were plenty of other things for visitors to enjoy, and everyone who took part in the one-day VIP visit on 11 March agreed that it was a truly unmissable event. 

"The production and processing of composite materials, and everything that goes with it, is an industry that deserves every opportunity for further expansion in Belgium. Because like Belgium itself, composites are strong and durable, not particularly simple in their design and complex in their final form. And yes, they are expensive, but at the same time the end result is much more impressive than the standard alternatives," said Marc Lambotte, Agoria's CEO, at the signing of the deed of incorporation of CFK Valley Belgium on 11 March. Through this joint initiative (read the press release here - in French), Agoria and Sirris are giving Belgian companies seeking to expand their activities in the composite industry access to an international network of knowledge centres, research institutes and other companies in the sector.

Gunnar Merz (CEO CFK Valley Stade), Marc Lambotte (CEO Agoria) and Herman Derache (Managing Director of Sirris) sign CFK Valley Belgium's deed of incorporation. Click here for more pictures.

"We welcome our new Belgian contacts with open arms," said Gunnar Merz earlier that day. Merz is CEO of CFK Valley Stade in Germany, of which the new Belgian project will be a satellite: "It's true that composites are sophisticated products whose quality is mainly determined by the production process. That's why cross-border knowledge exchange and collaboration is necessary to help businesses fully exploit the growth opportunities offered by the sector. I'm convinced that this partnership will be a win-win situation for the European and Belgian composites industry and will undoubtedly result in new applications."

Innovative Belgian high-tech

A short distance away in the halls of the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre were representatives of the entire composites value chain, from suppliers of raw materials, equipment and services, manufacturers of intermediate products through to processers and distributors.

Examples of Belgian innovations in or for the composites industry

The sector clearly has no shortage of ideas and innovation. Among those showcasing high-tech developments were a number of Agoria member companies. On Agoria and AWEX's Belgian group stand, Bekaert, a global player in steel wire transformation, was demonstrating its ultrafine steel wires barely 1 micron thick. "This is ideal for manufacturers who want to add special functions to their composite materials such as making them conductive, stronger, able to block out electromagnetic radiation, and so on,” said Peter Janssens (Innovation & Commercialisation Manager) and Dominique Andries (Market Manager Textiles). Right next door, Sonaca, the Wallonia-based developer and manufacturer of aircraft components, was generating a lot of interest with its prototype of a new flap for business jet wings. "This was developed as part of the Skywin project Ecotac and testifies to our expertise in the field of SQ-RTM technology, correction positioning of fibres during the injection process and non-destructive testing of such advanced composite structures," explained Space Programs Manager Pierre Taquet. At Delta Application Technics, another Belgian company, Managing Director Jacques Coppens and Sales Engineer Kim Aerts found the show "brimming with valuable international contacts". Their business makes machinery for the controlled and industrial application of adhesives and other liquid or pasty substances. They demonstrated their know-how with films of two smart applications developed for Daikin (heat exchanger) and Samsonite (CURV suitcase). Examples of both finished products were, of course, on display in Paris. "Gluing is the ideal adhesion method for many applications, but unfortunately it receives far too little attention on Belgian engineering courses," said Mr Coppens. Also showcasing its wares was EconCore, a spin-off of KU Leuven with an R&D centre in Belgium. The company develops and markets technologies for the automated continuous production of lightweight thermoplastic honeycomb structures, as well as further processable sandwich panels incorporating such structures. Its customers include manufacturers in the transport (truck panels), wind energy (nacelles) and construction (facade panels) sectors, who want to reduce weight without compromising on strength.

Three major trends

According to Markus Kaufmann, Lab Manager and Program Manager Composites at the SLC-Lab, JEC Europe 2015 was a show about technological evolution rather than revolution, a platform for numerous exciting and promising developments. Here are three trends he identified:

  • Greater automation

"Five years ago, composite production for many companies was a manual, almost artisanal process. Today we are seeing a lot more automated processes, especially in the leading composite markets such as aerospace, the wind energy sector and above all the automotive industry. Other markets will follow suit because the technical possibilities are evolving fast, as you can see here at the show."

  • More applications for biocomposites

"A big highlight of JEC Europe 2015 is the ‘Better Living’ innovation expo, showcasing innovative composite applications that combine material and weight reduction with strength, rigidity and flexibility. What's remarkable is that many of these applications use biocomposites based on flax, hemp or bamboo fibres. A tip for anyone unable to make it to Paris: Design museum Gent is hosting a pop-up exhibition from 3 April featuring recent designs made from flax and hemp composites."

  • New materials

"There is still a lot of innovation around basic materials. A good example is the development of new types of polymers that polymerise after injection into a closed mould. They could offer an alternative for companies that currently work with polyester and face the problem of high styrene emissions."

What did the Belgian visitors make of the show?

Of course, curiosity about the latest innovations was also the reason why a number of Agoria and Sirris member companies accepted our invitation for a one-day VIP visit to JEC Europe 2015. What were they expecting from the show?

Participants on the one-day VIP visit to JEC Europe 2015 organised by Agoria and Sirris

Peter Reynaert, General Manager of aircraft components manufacturer Sabca Limburg, and Jelle Goyvaerts, one of its R&D engineers: "We've been doing lean since 1997 and have just completed a major investment project to further optimise flows in our plant. This included additional buildings as well as a 30 m long milling cutter and an ultrasonic scan robot that enables much faster quality control of the aircraft components we've built. Although we don't have any more specific investment plans in the pipeline, we still like to come along anyway because developments happen very fast in this market and we're always looking for ways to make further efficiency gains. I also think this show is an ideal place to see what other people are up to: often, looking at developments and applications for other markets gives us inspiration for improving our own processes and designs."

Alice Salmon, is Industrial Manager at JD’C Innovation, a company producing composite components for the aerospace and defence industry: "I have a long list of appointments with existing and potential new suppliers. I've also come to check out the latest developments in the autoclave technology sector, not because we have any immediate investment plans but just to stay in the loop and to direct our long-term strategy in this area. We're also excited about the launch of CFK Valley Belgium. It's a great opportunity for small SMEs like ours to showcase their expertise internationally and access know-how that we could never afford to access by ourselves."

Pascal Dhondt, is Project Engineer Production at Spiromatic, a technology provider for the food industry whose products include storage silos for bulk and dry goods: "I've been coming to the JEC show for 12 years because it is, quite simply, the Mecca of the composites industry and there's always something new to discover. This year I'm mainly looking for innovations to improve specific sub-processes such as robotics for faster milling and 3D projection technology to simplify the installation of our silos."

Autor : Peter Ansoms, Agoria