DPI Annual Report 2013: Charting a New Course

1 July 2014

Towards a new format for DPI

Last year, in our Foreword to the 2012 Annual Report, we had expressed the hope that the Dutch government would take a long-term view and continue to support public-private partnerships like DPI as part of its policy to promote collaborative research and innovation and enhance the knowledge infrastructure in the Netherlands. Over the past fifteen years, DPI has developed into an internationally acclaimed example of cost effectively addressing the needs of industry while at the same time building a strong academic base producing innovative solutions as well as competently trained polymer experts. DPI's success is also the success of the Dutch government, whose commitment and financial support have all along been of crucial importance in creating the strong knowledge infrastructure for polymers that the Netherlands boasts today.

This polymer knowledge infrastructure is likely to come under pressure now as a result of the changes in government policy announced recently. While we understand that a reappraisal of the funding schemes was necessary in light of the severe budget reductions required at the central government level, it is highly regrettable that with the introduction of thegeneric "Top Sectors and TKI" policy, all successful specific funding schemes addressing the needs of industry and the need to enhance the Dutch knowledge infrastructure have been discontinued. The Top Sector/TKI policy will certainly make some contribution to maintaining polymer expertise and employment in the Netherlands, but the accelerated reduction of government funding for DPI will have a significant negative impact on the field.

Serious consequences
Although we continue to have the financial commitment of our industrial partners, the reduction in government funding has severely affected DPI's financial position. It has necessitated some drastic cost-reduction measures, including suspension of vacancies and cancellation of equipment orders for DPI research projects. We are also not entering into any new project or programme commitments. While these measures were unavoidable in the given circumstances, they form a serious threat to the continuation of a proven   collaborative platform that caters to the long-term needs of industry through a strategic research programme carried out by top-class research groups in the Netherlands and abroad.

Both our academic partners and our industrial partners recognize the importance of such a bridging role. In general, DPI research programmes have led to a greater academic effort in polymer science research than would have been possible without such a collaborative platform. And it has enabled a collaborative approach to challenges that extend beyond companies' individual innovation portfolios. To our partners, being a partner in DPI has meant participating in an active community of businesses and knowledge institutions which, thanks to a network-based virtual set-up with an international reach, offers its partners a variety of benefits: flexibility and responsiveness in project organisation and execution, a choice of the best available competences from across the world, high-quality research carried out in a programme-based framework assuring coherence and a long-term dimension. In addition, via the DPI Value Centre, we maintain a strong link with the downstream polymer industry. The Polymer Value Chain Projects launched by DPI and DPI Value Centre in 2012 are proving to be successful enablers of collaboration in innovation among players in the polymer value chain.

International partnerships
Our international dimension is one of our key strengths. With a substantial part of the world's polymer expertise being located in Western Europe, DPI has been able to fulfil a successful international role because of its well-established national and regional position. The international dimension is not only important to our partners; it also offers clear benefits for the knowledge infrastructure in the Netherlands. Over the past fifteen years, the revenues that DPI has been able to generate through its partnerships in other countries have had a positive impact on the volume and quality of academic research in the Netherlands. Moreover, bilateral partnerships between foreign companies and Dutch universities have sprouted from the fertile ground laid by the DPI network. Also, the presence of DPI and the active polymer network around it has encouraged a number of foreign companies to set up operations in the Netherlands. And just as important: our international dimension offers a wider platform for knowledge exchange and access to the talent pools of other countries.

In 2013, we made further progress in extending our international reach. At the European level, we took further steps towards establishing collaborations with Flanders (Flemish-speaking Belgium) and the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia. We have already signed a letter of intent with partners in Flanders and we expect to do the same in North-Rhine Westphalia soon. These collaborations across three European countries will not only strengthen our network in the Euregion, but will also enable us to link up better with the EU and its Horizon2020 programme.

In China, we entered into a partnership with a second university: Tsinghua University in Beijing, the country's No. 1 university. And our efforts in Brazil have resulted in the formation of a consortium in which DPI joined forces with the Eindhoven University of Technology and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development of Brazil (CNPq).

Our partnerships with Chinese players are important for our partners in Europe, who are keen to tap into the growing pool of young Chinese scientists, as well as our partners in China, for whom such partnerships can be helpful in achieving their growing international ambitions. For businesses and universities in Brazil, working together with partners in Europe means an opportunity to acquire knowledge in the field of polymers and explore the possibilities for their attractive raw materials position in biomass in light of Europe's steadily depleting fossil-based resources.

Although our international activities remain of crucial importance, for the time being our financial situation will not leave us enough room to continue to expand our international base to the same extent as before. This also means that for the time being we are unable to follow up the successful pilot Networking Event we organised in Shanghai, China in November 2013 in cooperation with Teijin Aramid Asia, SABIC and International Top Talent (ITT).

Scientific quality
DPI continues to deliver a high volume of scientific output of a consistently high quality recognized by the international scientific community. In 2013, DPI projects resulted in 21 PhD theses and 170 scientific papers published by researchers working on DPI projects. At 4.70, our average Journal Impact Factor for 2013 remained at the high level sustained over the past several years.

DPI scientists and DPI projects are regularly honoured with international acclaim. Worthy of special mention here is SHINE, a EU Seventh Framework project that is being coordinated by DPI and in which a consortium of two universities, four research centres, four large industrial companies and two SMEs are working together to develop self-healing innovative elastomers. SHINE has been selected as one of the success stories in FP7.

DPI research programmes offer PhD students the opportunity to work on industrially relevant topics and to gain experience in working to both academic and industry standards and requirements. This makes for a smooth transition of well-trained scientists to the labour market. In 2013, 45 new well-trained scientists became available for the polymer sector. Many of these entered into the employment of DPI's industrial and academic partners.

Under the leadership of Professor Martien Cohen Stuart, who retired as Scientific Director of DPI at the beginning of this year, DPI was able to boost the high scientific quality and reputation it has enjoyed worldwide. We would like to thank Professor Cohen Stuart for his strong commitment and dedicated efforts. Our thanks also go to Professor Claus Eisenbach, who retired as Scientific Chairman of our Coatings Technology research area, for the guidance and inspiration he gave to our research programme in this area.

The future of DPI
DPI has been successful so far thanks to the Dutch government's financial support and the commitment and contributions from our industrial and academic partners worldwide. We believe that the bridging role that DPI has played has made a major contribution to new developments in polymers and a dynamic knowledge infrastructure in the Netherlands. We are now in discussion with other parties to see if we can find additional funding at the national, regional and international level. Backed by the continued support of our partners, which we now need more than ever before, we hope to be able to safeguard this essential role for the benefit of the polymer sector.

Jacques Joosten, Managing Director
Sybrand van der Zwaag, Scientific Director

To read the annual report, click here.