‘Composites for All’ stands for a collaboration between Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) that aims at moving a first step in filling the existing knowledge gap between Western Balkan (WB) and Europe Union (EU) in the field of high performing light materials. In particular, the project is focused on the strategic material segment of fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) and in the CEI target countries of Montenegro (MNE), Bosnia Herzegovina (BIH) and North Macedonia (MKD). Despite their relevance for the rest of the world, in fact, composite materials are almost unknown in these emerging territories: no specific research centre have been established for working on them; only few professors have included these topics in own classes, their industrial use is almost limited to low-value applications and materials (e.g. traditional fiberglass in boatbuilding). A similar situation also emerges in other WB areas, such as Serbia and Albania, where, however, initial steps have been moved to fill this technological distance. An example of a direction to be followed can be represented by the closest countries, such as Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, where composites, especially advanced FRP, are under constant and growing interest, both at academic and industrial levels. A composite material is a combination of (at least) two physically different materials, bound together but remaining separated. Such a combination can offer very dissimilar physical & chemical features representing a flexible solution in material optimization with respect to different targets: low cost, easy workability, slow degradation, environmental factors, high productivity and so on. Actually, the composites have always accompanied the Mankind evolution: woody plants, plywood, concrete, papier-mâché, but less than a century ago the 1st artificial fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) paved the way for their systematic use the contemporary society is characterized by. A significant know- how evolution also emerged in the years, regarding aspects as reinforcements (as carbon, glass, aramid or less common natural fibers), resins (as thermoplastic, thermosetting or even emerging biological resins) and manufacturing processes (as vacuum bag, autoclave technology, resin transfer mouldings). After several decades, it is now evident how a lack of knowledge and competence on essential aspects (as materials’ properties, modelling, optimal design, applicability etc.) at the educational level can represent a limit for the social and economic development too. And the current project offers a first answer proposing an intense know-how transfer on these themes. In 2014, inside the Higher Education and Research for Innovation and Competitiveness (HERIC) programme, a collaborative R&D project was proposed to the Ministry of Science in Montenegro. This project, named as ‘COMPOLAB’, was proposing to establish the first research centre for the transfer of technologies & industrial development in the field of composite materials. Established through a close cooperation between University & Industry, the lab would have had access to modern production equipment and infrastructures, and advanced technical competences with the scope to strengthen the manufacturing capabilities respect to the use of advanced materials. The goal would have been to make the new lab a reference point in WB for each enterprise feeling the need to upgrade own products by a replacement of traditional materials. The Lab would also have served, in cooperation with the Academy, as a center for applied research, to support the development of scientific and “blue-sky” research on innovative materials. The project was approved, but no funds were available, and the project went just beyond a conceptual development and initial networking between institutions. Therefore, Montenegro and neighbouring areas have now accumulated a further 6 years of technological delay respect to the strategic sector of composite materials. This proposal persists in believing that no modern country can ignore the fact that advanced composites clearly represent the present of the cutting-edge industrial sectors, such as aerospace, automotive, exclusive boats, high-performing machines, just to name a few. Furthermore, they are increasingly interesting even in unexpected areas, such as process eco- sustainability and circular economy. Thus, ‘Composites for All’ is here proposed as a way to support the professors and researchers from these CEI countries to create their own know-how, increasing know-how and operational capacities. Moreover, it is also designed to have a large impact on the CEI territory, both in terms of training of students and researchers which will be immediately involved whenever possible, and in terms of exchange of competences with industrial companies to support their technological development. To guarantee this result, local business-oriented partners also take part in the initiative.
WP1 – ‘Finding by dialogs’
Period: 03.2021 – 10.2021
Description: WP1 is based on the ‘externalization’ of knowledge from the EU know-how providers toward the WB benefitting institutions. It represents a process of ‘formal education’ performed by activities of ‘socialization’ as teaching & training; story telling & learning; exchange of best practices.
Actions: desk research & documentary acquisition; didactic material development; invited lectures (in MNE and BHI); Training of Trainers (ToT); case reports analysis.
Roles: U.MNE (coordination, developer, trainees); U.BO (trainers); U.CAM (trainers); U.LJ (users, trainees); U.SA (users, trainees); U.BL (users, trainees); U.KIM (users, trainees)
WP2 – ‘Learning by doing’
Period: 06.2021 – 12.2022
Description: WP2 is based on the ‘internalization’ of knowledge from the WB benefitting institutions. It represents a process of ‘systemic education’ achieved by activities of ‘operational learning’ and procedural insights on the technical topic.
Actions: mentoring; peer assists; study visits (in Italy); training on materials (in Italy and MNE); training on research equipment (in Italy, as clean rooms, autoclave and CNC machines for composites); in-lab tests (in MNE, BHI); prototyping (single parts/components).
Roles: U.MNE (users, trainees); U.BO (coordination, trainers); U.CAM (trainers); U.LJ (users, trainees); U.SA (users, trainees); U.BL (users, trainees); U.KIM (users, trainees)
WP3 – ‘Training by use’
Period: 09.2021 – 09.2022
Description: WP3 is based on the ‘consolidation’ of knowledge by developing a large range of technical competences and practical capacities thanks to a problem-solving approach based on design/manufacturing activities that involve the use of advanced composites.
Actions: on-the-job learning; prototyping (small production batches); out-of-lab tests (inside foreign research centres); training on production equipment (in Italy); internships (WB researchers in Italy); secondments (EU researchers in MNE)
Roles: U.MNE (users, trainees); U.BO (coordination, trainers)
WP4 – ‘Spreading by proofs’
Period: 09.2021 – 10.2022
Description: WP4 is based on the ‘widespreading’ of knowledge by a promotion plan based on activities as academic and not-academic diffusion of results.
Actions: ‘Communities of Practice’; events’ organisation (in MNE and Italy); scientific publications; technical reports; changes in the University didactical programmes. Roles: U.MNE (users, trainees); U.BO (coordination, trainers); U.CAM (trainers); U.LJ (users, trainees); U.SA (users, trainees); U.BL (users, trainees); U.KIM (users, trainees)