32nd International Colloquium Plastics Technology increases confidence in the innovative strength of the plastics industry

The 32nd International Colloquium Plastics Technology demonstrated clearly that the plastics industry has plenty of possibilities for meeting the many challenges that currently exist. On February 28 and 29, 2024, the Institute for Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and Craft at RWTH Aachen University offered a lively forum for exchanging technical experiences and ideas. Some 600 participants from research and industry took advantage of the opportunity in the Aachen Eurogress and IKV’s technical service departments and laboratories to discuss the latest developments and technologies in the plastics segment. High-calibre plenary speakers, including VDI President Prof. Lutz Eckstein, were able to convince the audience of the innovative strength of the industry and the future of the engineering profession.

Picture: IKV/D. Fröls

Aachen, March 2024 – Breaking through the stress of the many day-to-day events that are increasingly characterised by crisis reports, and taking time out to reflect on the present situation and recognise new perspectives was particularly necessary at the present time, said the Head of IKV, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Hopmann, during his welcoming speech. For this, he continued, the Colloquium offered plenty of opportunity at all different levels: Not only during the presentation of the latest research results in the 15 lecture sessions, and the guided tours through IKV’s technical service departments and laboratories, but also at the industry trade show in the foyer of the Eurogress, during the recruiting speed-dating session and, last but not least, while drinking a cup of coffee during in the breaks between the individual events on the agenda. 

Ready for the future with the help of new technologies and well-trained young staff

Many valuable ideas came from the keynote speakers, who also talked about the topics of the future for the industry, as seen from different angles of view. VDI President, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Lutz Eckstein, emphasised how important the engineering profession is for the future of Germany. There was general agreement that technical innovations were crucial for Germany's industry, economy, well-being and competitiveness. At the same time, engineers – both male and female – do not, despite their good training and what they do for society, enjoy much presence in public awareness. He encouraged them to become self-confidently involved, to arouse people’s enthusiasm for innovation and, when doing this, not to rely purely on politics and the media. In order to achieve sustainability, the facts must be clearly communicated and the fiction must be made recognisable as such. In this way, trust in technology and progress can be consolidated.

The Head of the IKV Institute, Prof. Christian Hopmann, showed how plastics technology can combat the feared de-industrialisation with new developments above all in the fields of sustainability and digitalisation. Both topics, he said, are at the heart of numerous research projects at IKV, and he then proceeded to give a summary of these projects. Apart from that, he also touched on the large amount of scepticism shown by society towards new technologies as well as the concerns about finding sufficient young people for the engineering science disciplines, and explained what IKV is doing to persuade more young people to study the sciences.

Prof. Hopmann also introduced Prof. Dr.-Ing. Achim Grefenstein, who, since January 2024, has been active for IKV in the newly created position of Scientific Director for Circular Economy. Prof. Grefenstein obtained his doctorate at IKV and, since 1998, in addition to working in industry, has been lecturing in plastics compounding technology and recycling at RWTH Aachen University and IKV. He will in future divide up his time between his appointment as Head of R&D at Constantia Flexibles and his new task at IKV. As a result of this arrangement, IKV is underlining the importance of the topic of sustainability for its research, and is creating a further important connection to the industry.

Food for thought relating to the potential of plastics based on sustainable raw materials was provided by the plenary lecture from Dr.-Ing. Martin Bussmann (Neste SE). He described the overall topic very clearly, from the difference between biobased and biodegradable plastics, via different sources, through to the commercial availability of bioplastics. He talked about numerous standards for degradability and application, and also dealt with contradictions between expectations and possibilities. For both biobased and biodegradable plastics, a number of useful areas of application already exist, and many other approaches are worth being pursued.

Dr. Alexander Kronimus, Managing Director and Head of Climate Protection and Circular Economy at PlasticsEurope Deutschland e. V., described the tasks of the plastics industry in the shaping of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. After an analysis of the status quo in Europe, he came to the conclusion that the target cannot be achieved exclusively through climate optimisation of the plastics system. Instead, what is necessary is the integration of basic chemistry into the circular economy, so that plastic waste serves not only as a source of raw materials for the plastics circular economy, but can also be utilised for the production of basic chemicals. 

Current research at IKV and in industry

The total of 15 lecture sessions, all of which focused on current research results from IKV relating to industrial research topics, formed the backbone of the 32nd Colloquium. At the end of every session, intensive use was made of the discussion rounds to exchange ideas and experience. In line with the IKV objective of "Research for Practical Use", the discussions were focused above all on the perspectives and requirements of the industry. Alongside the overriding role of sustainability and digitalisation, they dealt among other things with new process technologies in injection moulding, extrusion and joining technology, as well as simulations and models for materials and processes.

The session titles were:

  1. Injection moulding process technology for lightweight products
  2. AI-based methods to boost PCR usage in plastics packagings
  3. Advances in ultrasonic and laser welding technology
  4. New control strategies for injection moulding
  5. Multiscale simulation of multiphase materials
  6. Material characterisation and process monitoring for polyurethanes
  7. Product-specific process technology for injection moulding
  8. Plasma-based barrier coatings for sustainable packaging
  9. Structural health monitoring of hydrogen pressure tanks
  10. Assistance systems in injection moulding
  11. Resource efficiency for rubber applications
  12. Improved fatigue life protection of fibre-reinforced products
  13. Challenges of PCR processing
  14. Cost-efficient lightweight design of tape-reinforced mass production parts
  15. Intelligent tools for improved design and processes in additive manufacturing

IKV 360° - Experiencing the IKV laboratories and pilot plants live

With the program item entitled “IKV 360°”, visitors had an opportunity in the afternoon of the first Colloquium day to experience live the topics presented in the 15 sessions, and in addition to gain a further insight into the current research at IKV. During the tour of all the IKV halls and laboratories, scientific staff were on hand at around 80 stations to discuss their work with the visitors and to answer questions. Up-and-running machines and processes from the fields of additive manufacturing, analysis and testing, digitalisation, extrusion, fibre-reinforced plastics, joining technology, Industry 4.0, rubber technology, circular economy, lightweight construction, surface technology, plasma technology, polyurethane technology, product development, simulation, injection moulding, hydrogen technologies and mould technology provided a graphic picture of the scope and practical orientation of IKV’s research.

Countering the shortage of young talent: Recruiting speed-dating

Bringing together the plastics industry and young talent was the fundamental idea behind the previously mentioned "Recruiting Speed-dating". In brief, students and graduates were able to get together in meaningful discussions with potential employers, and find out more about their future career opportunities. At the same time, the twenty or so participating companies were able to present themselves as employers and get to know potential (future) job candidates. It was also an ideal occasion to find prospective contenders for completing an internship, writing final dissertations and filling junior positions in the plastics industry. The overall feedback was very positive and both candidates and companies were more than satisfied both with the quality and with the quantity.

Making and cultivating contacts: Industry trade show

During the entire course of the Colloquium, the visitors had an opportunity at the 400 sq.m. industry trade show to strengthen their professional networks and cultivate an intensive exchange of ideas and experience with experts, decision-makers and business partners. Among the 40 or so exhibitors was the entire value chain of the plastics industry, extending from machinery manufacturers, through converters and raw material suppliers to producers of analysis and testing technology and consulting companies. Many of the exhibitors have been attending for many years, but as every year, IKV was also able to win a large number of new companies. Particular interest was generated by the two start-ups originated from IKV, IonKraft and OSPHIM, each of which were represented with their own stand. The opening of the show on the evening prior to the start of the Colloquium was particularly well-attended. Numerous participants took advantage of the opportunity to get into the mood for the coming days, making initial contacts and talking to the young researchers at IKV while enjoying a curried sausage, sandwich and a drink.

Next Colloquium

The 33rd International Colloquium Plastics Technology of the Institute for Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and Craft at RWTH Aachen University will take place in Aachen on March 4 - 5, 2026.

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