The use of plastics in vehicles has continued to grow over the past 20 years. The primary reason for this is that they help to reduce vehicle mass, consuming less fuel and as such, emitting fewer emissions, and increase the EV range. Hence there is a strong economic and social case for plastics in cars. Increasing the quality, function and useful lifetime will lead to increased value through better safety and satisfaction of users. Perhaps more relevant is that reparability and recyclability are essential in challenging the disposable culture that has grown around plastics.
Within the automotive industry, where our project focuses, waste is growing and attitudes are entrenched: a study of repair-shops is showing 96% of damaged plastic is replaced by new and just 8% of repair-shops were even equipped and trained to handle repairs. The introduction of self-healing, shape-memory plastics reduces the complexity of this repair work, and will promote the repeated use of parts.
Additive manufacturing is the mantra of modern industry. Traditional plastics are not suitable for this process due to their resistance to adhesion and welding. With our functionalisation we aim to open the plastic sector to this improvement and growth, by allowing the fast mass production of complex plastic products from injection-moulded parts.
Implants that are commonly used, e.g. stents, are commonly built of metal, with some clear challenges and
patient risks arising from the mismatch in the material stiffness and the surrounding soft tissue. Lack of affordable and fast patient customisation also means misfitting or prohibitively expensive treatments that do not always deliver the desired benefits.
Our ‘smart-plastics’ can be 3D printed and made of non-degrading polymers, with mechanical properties tailored to match the surrounding soft tissue. We believe such improvements could lead to improved patient outcomes. The health economic case is also clear, as for instance, better fitting implants that match the body would reduce the need for follow-up and replacement surgery and make complete patient recovery even more realistic.
With this in mind, CSP will also hire researchers and pursue low volume, high value biomedical applications like cardiovascular stents.