The discrete charm of complex materials

The discrete charm of complex materials

Producing advanced materials is one of Slovenia's least known areas of excellence in industry. This is especially true in the fast-growing field of multicomposite non-metal materials. According to CompoHub,  an EU sponsored project for education and training in composite manufacturing, over 4,000 people are employed by the composite industry in Slovenia.

Key players are some of Slovenia's larger firms with significant market shares in Europe. Helios Tblus is among the 50 largest Slovenian companies and develops and produces mostly coatings and resins. Veplas Group is one of the leading manufacturers of composite products in Central Europe. The company has a long tradition in fiber reinforced plastic materials and is increasingly focusing upon hi-tech composites. Akripol is the leading Slovenian company producing polymers and acrylic glass sheets.  Akripol is a part of Plastoform Group from Šmarjeta in southeastern Slovenia, an important European manufacturer of thermoformable plastic materials for various applications.

Many of the companies developing composite materials are small or mid-size, often family run businesses. A good example is Samson from Kamnik, a town near Ljubljana. Samson is a small company developing advanced composite materials for various industries and especially for the restoration and conservation of art works and old buildings. The company works closely with a number of R&D laboratories in many countries.

Two key Slovenian scientific institutions, Institute Josef Stefan and The National Institute of Chemistry, provide close support to the industry and run a number of specialized labs developing new materials. They focus on nanomaterials, films, coatings and advanced ceramics. One of their latest breakthroughs was the development of world’s first porous metal-organic glass with possible applications in crafting catalysts, sensors and optics.

Some of the companies’ R&D departments have also developed significant new technologies. One of the most interesting cases is AquafilSLO, a Slovenian company within the Italian Aquafil group, a global leader in the synthetic fibers industry. AquafilSLO is a center of excellence for the group’s policies in sustainability and innovation and a key production site for Econyl, a revolutionary plastic entirely made from plastic waste, including old nylon fishing nets – the technology was to a large extent developed in Ljubljana.  Econyl is a high-quality plastic material is being heralded as one of the success stories of circular economy.

Another important innovator is Seven Refractories, midsize company from Divača near the Italian border. Seven Refractories develop non-metal refractory materials, resistant to high temperatures and other extreme conditions found in furnaces, incinerators, power plants and other demanding applications. The company is a true hidden champion: a technology leader in the area of advanced monolithic refractory materials. Its in-house lab has so far developed over 800 new materials. Seven Refractories has production sites in Slovenia, Italy, Kazakhstan and India.

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