"If you claim to be innovative, you can't really do without an R&D department. Now, we had a Development department for years, but research was a bit of an underdog there as far as I was concerned. I missed a bit of research and a bit of initiative, and we are now trying to put a bit more emphasis on that."
We spoke to Peter van Keulen, operations director at Modiform. He himself has quite a track record at the company, having been plant manager at the production site in Roosendaal for a long time and responsible for purchasing raw materials in recent years. Since he donned this new cap last year, he likes to take the initiative.
On the left, Erwin van Loenen, Product Developer, behind him, Peter van Keulen, Operations Director, and on the right, Florus Oskam, Technical Draughtsman
"One of the things we recently implemented is a 3D printer," Peter says. "The big advantage of that is that you can show something immediately. What is drawn in the afternoon goes into the printer in the evening, and the next morning, you have a product. If the customer then wants to modify it slightly, we have the modified version the following day. You want to be able to see and feel it, and a physical copy is then a valuable addition to a drawing."
Not yet implemented, but high on the priority list is a separate thermoforming machine purely for testing. "We have several labs where we can test materials and products, but a test run, which is basically a regular part of our process, has to be scheduled separately. But, I think that machines should always be available so that new ideas can be tested much faster."
Then there are several other developments, which are taking place more or less simultaneously and, you could say, have put the company into a kind of transition phase. A few years ago, for instance, Thomsen (in Wormhout, France) joined Modiform, a manufacturer that uses injection molding technology rather than what Modiform originally does, namely thermoforming. However, the knowledge and innovation in both areas should be merged in the revamped division. The same goes for the 'ecoExpert' branch, or that part of Modiform that deals with fully naturally biodegradable cardboard packaging (although then again, everything to do with 'pulp' must be explicitly separated from the plastic). And something else entirely: as we speak, the entire R&D archive is being digitized, making decades of accumulated knowledge accessible.
Are there any new things to discover? Of course, if only because there are always new questions coming from the market and because the smallest adjustments often have implications in all possible areas - materials, machines, processes, etc. - have implications. There are also developments that transcend the company itself, such as new materials, new requirements, and changing laws and regulations.
"Our R&D department is, in a way, the incubator of our company. You can't just do anything, every question or challenge you want to tackle seriously every time to achieve the best result. By revitalizing this department and putting new energy into it, we hope to continue delivering on this in the future."