Introducing Rick Leuven, Research Engineer Lightweight Automotive

Rick Leuven works in the Lightweight Automotive (LWA) team as a research engineer. He is dedicated to laboratory work with a special focus on processes such as extrusion, injection molding, and compression molding. Six questions for Rick:

What developments are you currently working on? Do you work alone or in a team?

Currently I am working on the recycling of car parts; a common part is a splash shield made of glass mat thermoplastic (GMT). This part is located under the vehicle’s engine, and used to protect the components from any objects on the road. This work is part of a Fieldlab OPZuid project in which the focus is to show the recyclability of several sources of glass fiber reinforced polypropylene.

Part of our research consists of shredding splash shields into smaller pieces and injection molding those pieces into “new” i.e., recycled materials. After that we characterize the materials, meaning for instance that we check the material properties and fiber breakage after processing. Within this research we work in a team. Together with Jos Linsen, Principal Research Assistant Materials Solutions, I do the lab work. New results are discussed with scientist Amandine Codou and Marc Huisman, Program Manager and supervisor of the LWA program.

How do you test the functionality and safety of a product? I assume that the product requirements in the automotive industry are very high.

The injection molding machine allow us to injection mold test bars using molds designed according to the ISO standards. With a test bar we can measure the mechanical properties of the polymer in the conditions recommended by the ISO standards. Typically, the tensile three-point bending, impact, and the fiber length will be measured. Once we know the results we can compare them with the reference materials and in case some properties are inferior to the reference then we proceed with further optimizing the processing conditions and material’s formulation.

Which interesting developments/trends in the automotive industry have you worked on that really made a difference?

As I started only recently it is too soon for me to answer this question regarding the work done on recycling. However, another LWA topic I have been working on is linked to the Flexlines project. Our focus in this project is to use the injection molding machine to over-mold flexible electronic LED strips with polymer—the parts produced are also of use in the automotive sector. In parallel, a different group have developed an application which can be installed on a smartphone and after injection molding we can check if the parts are still working, using our phone. As we have shown, the near field communication (NFC) function on the smartphone can light up the LEDs proving that the circuit was not damaged during the integration.

What trends in the automotive industry do you see?

In the automotive industry I see a lot of trends. The first trend is to make the car parts lighter and lighter, but the mechanical properties need to be the same or even better. The second trend is recycling; car parts need to be lighter and the material they use will probably be a polymer composite. Thermoplastic polymers have the ability to be melted and reshaped multiple times which might sound like an easy process. However, in the case of composites the material is composed of a polymer matrix and a fiber. The challenge is to retain the mechanical properties which, to a large extent, is linked to retaining the fiber length.

Can Brightlands Materials Center take advantage of that trend?

I think that Brightlands Materials Center already takes advantage especially in the field of recycling. Our focus is already very much on recycling, and I think this will only increase.

What innovation do you hope to work for in the future?

It is not to work on one special innovation topic, but more to make and investigate products that can be seen in the world.

Read more about our Lightweight Automotive Program.