IRT Saint Exupéry pursues a series of portraits devoted to the men and women who best represent the institute: its researchers. Their high-level skills and wealth of experience contribute hugely to IRT Saint Exupéry’s performance and unique position, which is so crucial for its members and partners.
Can you tell us about your career so far?
Company restructuring has been the story of my life…
In 2003, my PhD thesis supervisor offered me a position at BP Chemicals in Wingles near Lille to provide technical support and take in charge the product optimization of the expandable polystyrene product range in an application laboratory. I discovered the coalfield landscape with its slag heaps, together with pink bricks, the Ch’tis and the world of industrial production.
The firm was bought by Ineos in 2005, and the expandable polystyrene division went to Holland and I was transferred to a new R & D position in mass polystyrene unit. I then worked with the process department to optimize and improve the manufacturing process. One of our goals was to reduce the amount of rubber in HIPS polystyrene. The experts argued that an additional reactor was needed to modify the process and that we wouldn’t succeed without substantial investment. I highlighted that, by playing with the molecular mass of the polymer chains, it was possible to reduce the amount of rubber by 0.5 %, a proportion that had never previously been obtained, meaning the investment could be delayed.
In 2008, I switched off in the direction of more technical materials of the future, which is how I joined the building and insulation division at Porcher Industries, which made technical textiles. This Lyon-based SME was looking for Material Science engineers to develop technical textiles with functionalities adapted to market needs. In January 2008, after downsizing measures were introduced, I was transferred to the Badinières site, where I subsequently took charge of the local R & D team.
But the expanding market was composites. To move towards more technical materials – and for personal reasons – I wanted to come to Toulouse. I had heard about IRT Saint Exupéry in 2014, and then one fine day in 2015, I spotted an ad: IRT Saint Exupéry had an opening for a platform engineer for composite department. I had exactly the required skills: expertise in the links between materials and processes. I’ve always made my professional choices based on the technical interest of the positions on offer without a pre-defined career plan. I work because I like it, regardless of the context: a large group, SME or the emerging IRT Saint Exupéry.
How did the implementation of the famous thermoplastic impregnation line go?
A prepreg is a semi-finished product consisting of a thermoset or thermoplastic resin (also called a matrix) or a thermoplastic polymer impregnating a reinforcement (e.g. carbon fiber, fabric, fiberglass). This semi-finished product is then used in various transformation processes to produce finished composite parts.
Can you tell us more about your role as technical advisor for the impregnation processes at IRT Saint Exupéry?
As technical advisor, I supervise the impregnation activities for the TP composites, and I pass on my experience for implementing new impregnation lines in IRT Saint Exupéry’s other sectors, such as thermoset organic matrix composites (CMO) and ceramic matrix composites.
Every member of the CMO TP team (about 10 of us) has a specialty in an impregnation technology. This means the platform is constantly changing, not forgetting the debugging inherent in a tailor-made line. The line has grown from 14 meters to 21 when it came to the large premises of the B612 building in 2018. The longer cable length caused new steering problems.
Very few industrials are expert in manufacturing a carbon prepreg with a high-performance thermoplastic matrix. The level of maturity of the related manufacturing process is relatively low compared to thermoset materials that have been used for a long time. There are not yet any TP primary structural parts qualified in aeronautics because this material does not yet have a large enough production base and its implementation is not properly controlled. This is the innovation dynamic we are in at IRT Saint Exupéry.
What results have been obtained and are expected?
This platform includes the impregnation line whose installation I described earlier. This line has a semi-industrial scale, unique in the world, and has been open to industrials and academics since it was commissioned in 2016. The COMPINNOV TP and METEOR projects – and soon COMPINNOV TP2 – use it for their R & D activities and some first subcontracts were carried out.
In parallel to the impregnation knowledge, we have developed skills in formulation of polymer dispersion. This activity resulted in 2017 in a patent for the formulation for a stable polymer dispersion for the impregnation of high performance prepreg.
The platform is also equipped with an induction welding robot. This equipment has supported the R&D activities of the SOFUSIN project on the innovative assembling of high-performance composite parts by susceptorless induction welding, a susceptor being a conductive metallic material conventionally used to transfer heat.
What do you like at IRT Saint Exupéry?
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Publications & Releases
 Industrial contracts for training through research; a system for funding theses that helps companies recruit young PhD researchers
 Centre de mise en forme des matériaux, part of the Ecole des Mines of Paris
 Centre national de recherche technologique Matériaux (CNRS/Univ. de Caen-Basse Normandie/ENSICAEN/Univ. du Havre)
 Institut Clément Ader (CNRS/Mines Albi/INSA Toulouse/ISAE-SUPAERO/UT3 Paul Sabatier)
 Interuniversity Center of Materials Research and Engineering (CNRS/INP Toulouse/UT3 Paul Sabatier)
 Laboratoire des interactions moléculaires et réactivités chimiques et photochimiques (CNRS/UT3 Paul Sabatier)
 Nantes Thermokinetic Laboratory (CNRS/Univ. of Nantes)
 High Impact Polystyrene
 Transmission electron microscopy