Wed, 05 January, 2022
Our Adhesives Technology consultant, Dr Ewen Kellar recently celebrated 25 years of working at TWI.
During this time, Ewen has worked across almost every industry sector and with countless applications to help our clients with their bonding requirements. His interests include surface preparation, plasma pre-treatments, spectroscopy, mechanical testing and failure investigation.
With such a wealth of knowledge, we took some time to speak with Ewen about his work with TWI…
Can you start by offering an insight into your time before joining TWI and what made you decide to come and work at TWI?
I was working at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, within the Materials Department, conducting research on a range of topics including Raman spectroscopic studies of composite materials and the testing of adhesives for nappy applications. My contract had come to an end and I was looking for another challenge when I got a call from a neighbour in the village (Linton) I had moved to a few years earlier. He told me a job was available at TWI in the field of adhesives and suggested I apply, which I did, and the rest is history, so to speak. So, whilst I’d like to say that I had looked for and found a job with TWI, the truth is more that the job found me!
How about your role with TWI – what does it entail and how has it changed since you first joined us?
My role at TWI is as consultant for Adhesive Technology, which is a job I’ve grown into, first starting as a senior project leader within the Adhesives Section as it was known then. We were a small section ranging from around six or seven of us, but at one time as small as four, including an administrator. The job has always been very varied, helping clients with all aspects of bonding matters, covering materials selection, joint design, failures, etc. The work involves a wide range of skills, from practical application in the lab to being a salesman and the inevitable writing of proposals and reports. The main changes would be the increasing use of the internet and the changing work environment; I initially started with my own office! But, much still stays the same, especially the diversity of the work, great colleagues and the lovely environment in South Cambs.
Composites and adhesives seem to be seeing wider use across a range of industries, what do you think has driven this growth?
Composites use certainly has grown in recent years, with many more applications taking advantage of the increased strength and reduced weight benefits of these materials. Adhesives, however, have always been used extensively over many industry sectors and it is probably more true to say that it is their visibility that has increased rather than an extensive growth in applications. It is important to remember that adhesive bonding offers the ultimate method for joining dissimilar materials, limited only by situations where high temperatures (>350C) are required, thereby enabling designers to work with and exploit the required properties for almost any application.
How do you see the future of these technologies?
Composites use will continue to grow wherever there is a need for high strength, lightweight structures where material properties can be manipulated by virtue of directed fibre placement. Despite being traditionally a hydrocarbon, and therefore oil-based, product there is a significant drive to look for alternative ‘green’ resin systems. Such resins include those derived from bio-sources, or are easier to re-process at end of life. This latter property is becoming increasingly important when one considers, for example, composite blades from wind turbines, which can be over 70m in length and weigh several tonnes. Already, much consideration is being made on their recycling after the 25 or so years that they are expected to operate.
Composites are also being found in many diverse applications including gas tanks for hydrogen transport applications, prosthetic limbs, civil structures such as bridges, and aircraft, etc. Certainly, the ability for composites to be virtually corrosion proof is another big advantage for their use over more traditional metallic materials.
In terms of adhesives, their use will continue to spread where there is a need to combine and exploit the properties of diverse materials, a good example of which would be the mobile phone and associated technology. Adhesives also offer the benefits of being much more resistant to fatigue. However, the challenges associated with the non-destructive appraisal of adhesive properties still remain, with no method to detect kissing bonds currently available. The ability to indirectly measure bond-strength would be a game changer for almost every industry and, as such, remains an enticing challenge.
25 years is a long time to work for a company these days, what do you think it is about TWI that has kept you engaged with your role over the years?
That’s easy, the incredible diversity of the job, in combination with a large ‘family’ of expert colleagues all based in a lovely part of the UK, makes for a unique career path and one that I could not have imagined finding when I first moved to the area over 30 years ago.
Finally, work aside, what do you like to do in your spare time and is there anything more you would like to add?
I like keeping occupied with lots of stuff including running (I would usually try to run commute into TWI each day), eclectic music tastes (ranging from metal sitar, through most rock genres to classical greats such as Bach), rock climbing, and pottery. We have a flat up in Edinburgh, which is essentially our escape bolthole and we use it to explore the great land of the north. Recently, during lockdown, we purchased a couple of sit-on-top kayaks, which we plan to use to explore various waterways around the UK.
I have to confess that I never thought I’d end up doing such an interesting job, but it is so important to stress that a job is more than just the work you do; it is the people, the place and the sense of belonging, essentially a feeling of family that makes it work. I sincerely hope, in the post-Covid times, that this is maintained, as this is what makes it all worthwhile.