Journey with DPI: A Pieter de Lange perspective
Pieter de Lange, former Principal Scientist, Product and Application Development at Teijin Aramid, has been a pillar of support for DPI, from even before he became a DPI member. The essence of our mission – to facilitate the symbiotic relationship between industry and academia – found a perfect embodiment in Pieter's efforts. Both as a Programme Committee (PC) member (for Engineering Polymers and later for Performance Polymers) as well as an Industrial Contact Person (ICP) for Teijin Aramid. Pieter understands and appreciates the aim of DPI as an international platform for collaboration to propel industry-led research and research-based industry solutions, forging a path towards mutual success.
After 15 years of active participation, with over 30 projects with DPI, he bid farewell to his job in 2023. This was a good time for us to sit down with him and look back at his journey with DPI.
First brush with DPI
Pieter de Lange's association with DPI didn't begin when he officially joined as a Programme Committee member. In fact, he had a history with DPI that predates his formal involvement. He reflects, "Though my official membership started 15 years ago, my connection with DPI began much earlier during my tenure at Teijin Aramid. I was involved in pre discussions headed by Jan Roos (former R&T director) and Henk Maatman (former Research Institute manager) when people from DPI initially visited our company. They had also invited researchers, including me”. Then in 2004, while DPI was involved in a new project about fiber adhesion, De Lange participated in progress review meetings as an interested party as well. So, when he officially took over the PC membership from Henk Maatman in 2008, he had all this prior experience, under his belt.
Becoming part of a network
Pieter de Lange's initial engagement with DPI was also driven by the need for a robust network. He explains “I started working with Akzo in 1989, a large company focused on research, which aligned with my career aspirations. In 2000, due to reorganisation, we became Teijin Aramid when business was taken over by Teijin Group (headquartered in Japan). Though with this change, we could focus on Twaron research, but the size of the research team dwindled significantly.” Being a part of Teijin also meant losing his former research network from his time at Akzo. DPI offered an opportunity, providing a platform for research development along with a strong researcher network. And in 2002 Teijin Aramid joined DPI. He adds, “It is only when I became a PC member, that I fully realised what DPI was all about.”
DPI offers Teijin Aramid a window to the 'outside polymer world' and a strong 'polymer network' with international knowledge institutes and other companies.
- Pieter de Lange
Initial challenges and developing a mutual understanding
For Pieter de Lange, walking the thin line between information that could be shared and what was confidential, as a PC member, was not a problem. He believed that the real challenge lay in getting projects granted by the PC of the programme, which would be relevant to Teijin Aramid. This hurdle was further compounded by the diverse agendas and politics of various stakeholders of the programme. He shares, “We were the only fibre manufacturer, and the rest were mostly into polymer manufacturing. With the selected projects, there was more overlap between other companies than with Teijin Aramid.”
Though Pieter recognised DPI's unique potential for collaboration, project selection discussions were often tough. He admits, "I sometimes questioned whether DPI provided enough value for our company”. That changed during informal post meeting drinks with Jan Stamhuis, the Programme Manager at the time, and PC members of other companies. Through shared conversation they all recognised the need for balance in project allocation among Programme Committee members. Stamhuis also realised that for DPI to be of continued value to Teijin Aramid, they needed to focus on an aramid project as well.
Being a PC member vs ICP member
Having experienced both PC and ICP roles, Pieter clearly prefers the ICP role, especially for aramid-specific projects. This was bolstered by the fact that the management at Teijin Aramid was always supportive. He elaborates, “Compared to other PCs I had a relatively easy job, since I always received support from our management. Our R&T directors - Jan Roos and his successor Daisuke Osaki - were both part of the supervisory board at DPI. I never had to explain the value of our membership. While other PC members sometimes had difficulty justifying it, to their organisation.” Funnily enough, him being active in his role also meant he had to explain often to colleagues that it was Teijin Aramid that was part of DPI, not him individually.
Working at the industry and academy interface
When asked about his most cherished moments within DPI, Pieter highlighted his appreciation for the close interaction between academics and industry. In his words, “I like to work on interfaces. The first interface was fibre and the matrix, the breadth of my career. The second was between research and marketing. The third interaction was between industry and academics. And for that DPI was very important for me, as it enabled me to work closely with others besides my own colleagues.” He was also appreciated by the academic partners who clearly remember the time he took to visit the labs, explain the materials etc. and share feedback.
When asked, Pieter de Lange spoke about the European FP7 SHINE (self-healing innovative elastomers) project and how it started, as some of the fondest times to look back on. He shares, “I knew Richard van den Hof (former Scientific Chair of the DPI Performance Polymers programme) rather well. He said that they were starting-up a project on self-healing rubbers. Since our fibres are used to reinforce rubbers, he asked if I was interested in the project. He thought we should be included. Since I could not go to Brussels for the next meeting to discuss this, he asked me if I could share some slides on the subject. He presented the slides for Teijin Aramid at Brussels. Eventually this project helped generate a lot of knowledge and we got a lot of subsidies, so it was a remarkable for us. What it also highlights the kind of trusting relationship we all shared.”
The (non-quantifiable) value of DPI
As a platform, we do not create products or applications. What DPI does is help generate fundamental knowledge and tools. Pieter de Lange emphasised that DPI's value goes beyond direct, quantifiable benefits. Pre-competitive research often yields collective impacts that are difficult to measure one-to-one. He elucidates further, “The research is also high risk. Since it’s a collaboration, the costs for the company are lower. Not a lot of companies can fund this kind of research on their own. We also found value in discovering several ideas that did not work, because of a DPI project.”
Looking to the Future
Over the years, De Lange witnessed DPI's transformation and adaptation to the evolving needs of its members. In discussing the future of DPI, he suggests a more regulated approach to project selection among Programme Committee members. “It might also help to ensure that every member receives at least one project relevant to their field.” He also raised the possibility of DPI facilitating bilateral projects for its partners outside of DPI, as such projects usually take a lot of administrative efforts from the company.
Pieter de Lange's journey with DPI is a testament to the power of collaboration and the value of fostering connections between academia and industry. His association and insights continue to shape the organisation's path towards success.