Many companies lack the resources and the infrastructure required to turn basic research ideas into marketable products. However, there is a great need for innovative materials for technical as well as economic reasons. Polymaterials AG’s structured service portfolio is designed to support its clients in finding solutions for material problems and implementing innovative ideas.
Polymaterials AG was founded in Kaufbeuren in 1999 and is a specialist service provider in the field of polymer materials. The company specialises in industrial research and development as well as production resources in the field of polymers and compounds. The company’s CEO, Dr. Jürgen Stebani, believes that Polymaterials AG has a considerable advantage over bigger companies in terms of speed and flexibility, as it has less administration and is focused on special materials on the semi-industrial scale.Although Polymaterials AG is a service provider, Stebani, who is also in charge of strategic expansion opportunities, also closely monitors market trends. The company is a member of the “National Platform for Electromobility", which was established in May 2010 on the instigation of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The platform’s goal is to become the leading international market for electromobility by 2020. Polymaterials AG is one of six chemical companies that participate in the platform. With R&D laboratories in Kaufbeuren and a Synthesis Technology Centre, research laboratories and product-specific analytical process facilities in the Leverkusen-based Bayer Chemiepark, Polymaterials has at its disposal an innovation process chain that is typical of big companies.
The chemical industry, which markets numerous materials for a broad range of products, is one of Polymaterials AG’s major clients. Stebani says that very many big companies are experiencing gaps between ideas and the internal implementation of ideas into products. Contract researchers and producers such as Polymaterials AG close this gap perfectly and are able to take projects from basic research to market entry. “We are rather like a new, independent transfer platform between research institutes and industry,” said Stebani explaining the company’s goal to develop materials that correspond to clients’ requirements and enable their cost-efficient industrial implementation.In order to produce and test new thermoplastic compounds quickly and inexpensively, Polymaterials AG has developed a method known as high-throughput compounding (HTC). This machine-based concept combines the production of a DIN-standard test block using an integrated compounding and injection moulding process, followed by the thorough testing of the material and data evaluation using DOE (design of experiments) software. The new compounding method, jointly developed by Polymaterials AG, Engel Austria GmbH and other suppliers, now makes it possible to assess between 300 to 500 different plastics formulations using material quantities of just one kg over a period of one to two weeks. The method thus considerably reduces the time it takes to develop a specific formulation at the same time as increasing the amount of information gained from the application of statistical DOE.
In the plastics area, the services that Polymaterials AG offers are the development and production of special polymers. The acquisition of the Polymer Synthesis Division of Bayer’s former Central Research Division gives the company access to numerous synthesis facilities, enabling Polymaterials AG to increase production from the laboratory scale to several thousand t per year. The company’s clients then receive the materials for the development of new products that are ideally suited to their specific needs, thus enabling them to generate a large-scale market for products made from reliable raw materials. “We develop and produce materials based on the specific needs of each individual client, who then have exclusive use of such material,” said Jürgen Stebani pointing out that this includes both the data and information obtained during the development processes as well as to the specifically produced polymer. Polymaterials AG’s clients include the chemical industry as well as a growing number of manufacturers of sophisticated technical products, including suppliers to the automotive industry. “A trend we are seeing is that our customers are to an increasing extent focusing on the adaptation of materials, which is why they contract us,” said Stebani going on to add that “Polymaterials AG helps clients to apply innovative and optimised existing formulations. In the field of biopolymers, one of the things we are working on to give you an example, is the polymerisation of biogenic building blocks and the screening of new blends and compounds with our superior HTC technology.”
Polymaterials AG also works on innovations in the development and production of biomedical materials. Working with numerous partners from university hospitals, research institutions and industry, Polymaterials AG is developing materials that can be used for the three-dimensional cultivation of cells. These materials are biocompatible and bioresorbable, release fewer acids than polylactic acid and can be flexibly adapted to the requirements of product properties. “The three-dimensional shape can be made to measure to replace the missing tissue,” said Stebani explaining that cells grown on the scaffold take on the shape required for each individual patient. The 3D data sets are generated from a patient’s computed tomography scan, which are then used to produce the required tissue shape using a silicone injection mould produced with rapid prototyping. “We now have a broad range of different material compositions with different material properties available,” said Stebani. This complete formulation platform consisting of polymeric components made from different formulations also enables the company to adapt the materials’ properties to specific tissues. Numerous experiments have shown that the materials are well tolerated by tissue and that they have not led to any inflammatory reactions. The materials are already being tested for application in orthopaedics, for use in cartilage or intervertebral discs, for example or in the field of trauma surgery where they can be used for tissue construction. Stebani emphasised the interdisciplinary character of the project: “The combination of medical application with expertise in polymer chemistry, material development and three-dimensional moulding leads to innovations and completely new ways to heal tissue.”