The National Research Council (NRC) has struck a collaborative agreement with the Exteriors and Interiors Division of auto parts giant Magna International, Aurora ON, to develop a range of products made from thermoplastic composites. An initial project will commence immediately at Magna's facility in Concord ON and expand next year with the construction of a new facility to house the Magna-NRC Composite Centre of Excellence (MNCCE).
The two partners will contribute approximately $7.2 million to the venture in cash and in-kind with NRC providing approximately 55% and Magna 45%. In-kind will be comprised largely of industrial-scale moulding equipment for the production of thermoplastic components that also have application in the aerospace and consumer products sectors. Two materials that have already been identified are direct long fibre thermoplastics and sheet moulding compounds.
To implement the agreement, NRC and Magna have signed an initial 10-year agreement to establish the centre while the inaugural project is expected to last up to three years. The collaboration came together in a matter of months after Magna became interested in NRC's automotive expertise in several key areas related to thermoplastics.
Using thermoplastic composites combined with carbon, glass or plant fibres could accelerate development of all-electric vehicles. Magna struck a pact with the Ford Motor Co early this year to develop an electric car for market introduction by 2011 and lighter vehicle parts will allow smaller, less-expensive batteries to be used. Thermoplastic composite materials are lighter and stronger than traditional plastics, leading to greater durability and fuel-efficiency.
For NRC's part, it is providing the combined resources of several of its institutes led by the Industrial Materials Institute (IMI) in Boucherville QC and London ON and involving the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) in Montreal and the Institute for Aerospace Research in Ottawa. The venture will be overseen on the NRC's side by Martin Bureau, group leader for advanced polymer composites at IMI.
The horizontal alignment of NRC's resources in support several key industrial sectors has resulted in a more holistic approach to technology development which is beginning to resonate with major private sector players.
"The alignment gives us the multidisciplinarity we were looking for. We've made the links to get the full picture," says Dr Sherif Barakat, NRC's VP engineering. "We're offering a combination of technologies coming out of various institutes. For example, the development of fibres for bioplastics was done at BRI."
The MNCCE is different from the traditional NRC institute presence where a major facility is constructed to house a specified activity. The Magna-NRC alliance will be project driven with the allocation of technical expertise as required. It's a new flexible arrangement that NRC hopes will be replicated in other areas of relevance to industry. For Magna it could also spur expansion into the different sectors.
"Thermoplastics is quite hot now in automotive, consumer products and aerospace," says Barakat. "We've been working with this for a while at Boucherville and car manufacturers are already looking at it ... Magna will look at these sectors and decide whether to expand operations into these areas."
As the collaboration evolves, NRC and Magna expect that various small- and medium-sized enterprises will also become involved, helping to disburse a new class of environmentally sustainable plastics throughout the supply chain.
"By linking SMEs to larger companies and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) knowledge can be transferred to them," says Barakat. "We hope to see more automotive initiatives. We have expertise in advanced materials on a number of fronts."