Iulia Degeratu is Program Manager at M2i, the Materials Innovation Institute. She is the coordinator of the project Grade2XL gathering 21 organizations. She had successfully managed the proposal writing to the European Commission done collaboratively between many experts of different fields. She answered our questions about the origins of the project and latest developments.
What kind of project is Grade2XL?
Grade2XL is a European project, funded from the Framework programme for Research and innovation. In particular, it is an innovation project, aimed to scale up a promising technology like wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM). This technology can substitute casting of large structures, at better quality and lower cost, using multiple materials. The project stems from industrial needs, and this can be seen in the composition of our consortium. We are 21 partners, of whom five are universities or research institutes, thirteen are companies throughout the value chain, two are network organisations and one is a classification society establishing the qualification requirements for the new technology.
How did it all start?
We seized the opportunity of a EU call on multi-material additive manufacturing and discussed it with RAMLAB and Delft University of Technology. Receiving this grant helped us push further the advances made in the research programmes such as the national programme AiM2XL.
In AiM2XL, led by Delft University of Technology and supported by RAMLAB, fundamental knowledge is being developed on the material properties of products made with WAAM. Several large companies supporting AiM2XL have joined Grade2XL in an active role, proposing novel designs and developing metallic wire materials suitable to achieving graded compositions.
Why did M2i decide to coordinate it?
There are several reasons for this. M2i is an ecosystem of academic and industrial partners working together in an open-innovation model to innovate materials and manufacturing technologies in the Netherlands. As a foundation (“Stichting”) we are a neutral party, with more than 20 years of experience in steering large consortia, in which interests sometimes diverge. Moreover, we have in-house technical expertise in computational mechanics, and contribute to the development of Topology Optimisation for WAAM in cooperation with leading experts from Ghent University. In Europe, M2i cooperates with similar technological clusters such as Pôle EMC2, which in Grade2XL leads the Dissemination and Exploitation work package, with a key role in Innovation projects. EMC2 brought in other WAAM pioneers, such as Naval Group, EDF and ARRK, with their own, novel use cases.
21 partners are quite a large group. What does the coordination entail?
We have a large consortium indeed, sharing the same motivation. Interests differ naturally, with universities being interested in understanding the underlying phenomena, developing and testing novel concepts, whereas the industry would like to have a working technology fast. We understood these interests upfront already since the proposal development and aligned them in an effective manner. We had two physical meetings with all partners, before we submitted the application, as well as many bilateral or trilateral meetings to discuss the various tasks. A lot of thought and effort has been put into the design of the project, which proves to be a great advantage now, since we can use our time to go ahead full-throttle.
Even so, coordinating such a project remains a big task, one that can only be delivered effectively by a team: Viktoria Savran brings in her material science expertise, overseeing the technical developments, and Anniek Enserink effectively handles administrative and communication tasks. We are working synergistically to cover all aspects of coordinating such a large and dynamic project.
Already 18 months have passed since the project start, are you still on track?
We started just when the coronavirus pandemic hit, which was quite unfortunate for any collaborative endeavour. Nevertheless, we managed to gain and maintain momentum, through many on-line interactions, including monthly meetings with all partners and frequent email contact and follow-ups. Overall, at this moment, we are on track and in some respects, even ahead: breakthroughs on process development have been achieved already, with a world-first an inline monitoring system being developed at RAMLAB and implemented at Naval Group, too. Very high productivity rates have been already demonstrated and we have done pioneering work on topology optimisation. We are shifting the boundaries of what can be achieved with the WAAM technique even beyond what we originally thought would be possible.