What are Composite Materials?

Interview with Stefano Capurro Former President of the Italian Plastics Engineering Association

On this occasion, we will explore the fascinating world of plastics, polymers and composites, a universe full of opportunities and innovations. We are honoured to have as our guest an expert in the field, Stefano Capurro, Ex-President of the Italian Plastics Technicians Association and Global Commercial Director Elastomers at Sirmax SpA. With his knowledge and expertise, we will dive into this fascinating world and discover its secrets.

Can you briefly describe your career? How did you get into the plastics industry?

I would say that I was born into plastics as a ‘child of the art’ as my father was already working in the industry. Chemistry did not particularly attract me, in fact my studies and my first job led me down the path of electronics, but one day, by chance, I came across a new family of ‘strange’ materials. It was Thermoplastic Elastomers (or TPEs), materials on the borderline between ‘plastic’ and ‘rubber’, and I was hooked. I found employment as a commercial officer for plastics and rubbers with a mandate to open up the market for TPEs. From there I developed a great interest in all plastics, especially those for technical applications with a particular passion for TPEs, whose market and applications I have been involved in for over 35 years.

In the light of your experience as former President of the Italian Association of Plastics Technicians, what do you think are the biggest obstacles for those who want to enter this sector, and what, on the other hand, are the resources and opportunities to be grasped as soon as you graduate?

The plastics sector in Italy has always been a very receptive sector in terms of employment and, with the gradual introduction of new technologies (both specific to plastics and more transversal such as Industry 4.0), it requires new professional figures that are increasingly well prepared and specialised. I therefore think that rather than obstacles, we should speak of ‘opportunities’ to be seized, particularly now that we are witnessing a profound renewal of the sector, especially in ‘cultural’ terms, thanks also to the emerging focus on the ecological sustainability of companies and products. With regard to the approach by students, I recommend the formation of a solid technical foundation on materials, their properties and their transformation, always keeping an eye on the evolution of market trends and available materials and technologies. In this, training and dissemination networks, such as TMP with its seminars, meetings and congresses, provide excellent moments of interchange for constant updating.

How are companies in the sector reacting to the constant green campaigns demonising plastics?

We start from the rational assumption that the demonisation of plastic is not a plastic problem but a waste disposal problem that has become unsustainable thanks to the disposable culture, and that a battle against plastic as such and without discernment is simply unsustainable in the modern world as it is extremely widespread in all sectors and difficult (and sometimes impossible) to replace.

Having said that, as companies and organisations in the sector, we can do no more than bring the discussion back to a technical level, making all the necessary distinctions between the different materials in their multiple applications and making this comprehensible to the public as well (everyone must understand the difference between a food packaging tray and the dashboard of a car…). For the rest, action is already being taken according to the 3Rs of the New Economy (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle), especially with regard to the last one, recycling, because it is a well-established industry practice to reuse post-industrial waste and, when well-collected and properly cleaned, plastics can be recycled excellently even when post-consumer and at a much lower energy cost than most other classes of raw materials.

How do you think the ITS system can help companies and students

I am a fervent believer that Research, Education and Companies should live in a very close union. In this, the ITS system, with its training programmes and close interchange with companies, including through internships, bridges the gap between theory and practice in a virtuous process that ensures that both evolve in step with the times.

The world of plastics is not popular with young people, how do you think we can get young people involved?
Here we return a bit to the earlier concept of irrational demonisation and how ‘the enlightenment of reason’ can bring perception more in line with the facts. For years, TMP has been disseminating the culture of plastics among young people, inviting schools of all grades (including primary schools) to visits to companies and trade fairs in the sector to let them ‘touch with their own hands’ our reality. The feedback we have received so far gives us hope for the future. We must all do our best to make people understand how its versatility makes plastic irreplaceable in the vast majority of everyday objects, while at the same time inviting them to use and dispose of it more consciously.

In conclusion, the figure of Stefano Capurro represents an important reference point for the plastics sector in Italy. His career as former president of the Italian Plastics Technicians Association and his role as Global Commercial Director Elastomers at Sirmax SpA have given him unique knowledge and expertise in the field. During the interview, Capurro emphasised the importance of training for those who want to enter this industry, and pointed out that the opportunities are greater than the obstacles. Furthermore, he answered questions about the reaction of companies in the sector to green campaigns, emphasising that plastic itself is not a problem but it is the throwaway culture that has caused unsustainable waste disposal. In summary, the interview with Stefano Capurro gave us a detailed, 360-degree view of the fascinating world of plastics and composites.