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Polypropylene Composite Materials

Rain Noe (AKA hipstomp) at Core77 ran a few articles last week that featured a rather interesting flavor of composite materials. What sounds like a contradiction in terms, polypropylene composites combine the ballistic properties we typically associate with traditional glass-fiber composites with the low density, high impact and abrasion resistance of polypropylene. Hipstomp’s first example is Tegris, a polypropylene thermoplastic composite developed by textile and chemical giant Milliken for use in lifesaving armor, NASCAR race cars and protective gear for NFL players. Baggage manufacturer Tumi is now using this material in their new Tegra-Lite collection, starting with a pair of carry-ons (above).

A few days after his initial post, Hipstomp was turned on to Pure, the same type of material manufactured by Dutch textiles manufacturer The Royal Lankhorst Euronete Group. In both products, this material starts with co-extruded tapes that consist of a highly oriented, high strength and high modulus polypropylene core and a specially formulated skin on both sides for welding the tapes together in a compaction process using a hot-press or continuous belt press. This tape can be used as-is or woven into fabric or sheets or laminated onto structural panels like foam or honeycomb substrates from which you can construct a wide range of products. But it’s this ability to mold this material by compressing and heating it so that it bonds to itself that I find so interesting.

Pure has a very nice illustration of this process:

Click to go to the Pure Technology page.

One of the key advantages to considering this type of composite is that in addition to being strong and lightweight, these materials are 100% polypropylene (the inner PP fiber core and the outer layer of PP that is heat fused) and therefore can be fully recycled. This is in sharp contrast to traditional composites using a thermoset polyester resin to lock glass or carbon fibers together and can’t be re-melted or separated. They refer to this as a “mono-material concept” since heating the material to melt temperature results in just polypropylene resin.

Of course there will be times when you don’t want your composites to soften or melt under high-heat situations, but this new technology provides new opportunities for designers who think they need a composite, but are looking for a more sustainable solution.

[via Core77 Tegris article and Pure article]

Pop-up Fabrication of the Harvard Monolithic Bee

When you consider how complicated it is, it’s impressive. When you consider the scale of this mechanism, it’s simply amazing…

Scientists at Harvard University have been working on developing bio-inspired robots. They are designed to work as an insect would, interacting with nature, serving an integral purpose, and they are able to do their work autonomously. The Harvard Monolithic Bee (affectionately called “Mobee”) is a millimeter-scale flapping wing robotic insect produced using Printed Circuit MEMS (PC-MEMS) techniques. This video describes the manufacturing process including carbon fiber and polyimide film laminates, adhesives, micro-machining and an assembly technique inspired by pop-up books. Watching the finished bee rise out of the frame is mesmerizing.

The published paper on the project featuring additional images can be downloaded here.

Such an elegant design. Well done.

[via BoingBoing]

Gravity Stool: Magnetic Fields and the Power of Gravity

Departing from the idea of how materials are influenced by gravity, Dutch Designer Jólan van der Wiel set out to explore how he could explore this universal force by exploiting its own power: magnetism. He’s created a process (and a machine) to pull and manipulate a resin (I’m assuming it’s a thermoset material like urethane or polyester) heavily loaded with metallic powder and colorant while still in its a liquid state. At the end of this dance with magnetic fields and material, the forms cure within a half hour. You’ll have to see the process to truly appreciate it.

Jólan’s Gravity stool was a Graduate project that has gone on to win first place for the Interior Innovation Award for the D3 Contest at imm cologne 2012. These strikingly beautiful and expressive forms are so intimately connected to nature, they could have been unearthed from a newly discovered cave.

[via SolidSmack]

Bioplastics Fueled by Sugar Cane Trash

A Renmatix employee pours sugar liquor produced from woody biomass with the company's water-based Plantrose process. (Source: Renmatix)

Plastics and chemical giant BASF is betting on a process that converts plant waste materials to sugars that form a major ingredient of biofuels and bioplastics.

The German company has invested $30 million in US-based Renmatix, whose Plantrose process can turn lignocellulosic biomass — such as wood, straw, or cane trash — into large volumes of cost-competitive industrial sugars. Since the process does not use edible plant biomass as a feedstock, such as corn for ethanol, it does not compete with the production of food for people or feed for animals.

Industrial sugars are a key element of bio-based chemicals and fuels, including polypropylene and polyethylene, and can produce these substances via fermentative processes. However, celluose sugars are extremely tough to break down.

Check out this flash animation describing the process (mouse over the individual stages):

[Read the full article at Design News]

Jan 26-27: MTRL2020 in Cincinnati (FREE!)

The University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (UC-DAAP) is holding a very special event at the end of the month entitled MTRL2020: Envisioning Innovative Materials Application. The program has been built for students and educators, but will be a fantastic learning opportunity for practicing professionals as well:

For creative people in the 21st century, understanding emerging and innovative new materials is a core necessity. MTRL 2020 is an event centered in providing the students and faculty of the University of Cincinnati as well as others in the community a common forum within which to achieve that understanding. With expert speakers in various fields of materials research, workshops, and a roundtable discussion, the three-day event seeks to heighten the level of awareness to the importance of materials knowledge across the design disciplines and the inter-relation of these materials with outside disciplines.

The event will take place from 1/25-1/27, and is comprised of guest lectures, breakout sessions, a roundtable discussion, and a gallery show of innovative materials samples on campus which runs from January 16 to the end of the month. And what an impressive collection of speakers:

  • Michelle Addington, Hines Professor of Sustainable Architectural Design at the Yale School of Architecture
  • Inna Alesina, Faculty member of Towson University’s ID department
  • Emiliano Godoy, of design firm Godoylab, and design director of the furniture manufacturer Pirwi
  • Chris Lefteri, long-time IDSAMP blog friend and materials evangelist

Here’s the best part: Registration is 100% free of charge and anyone is welcome to attend. Definitley worth checking out.

[MTRL2020 Info]

Bresslergroup Innovates Greener Shipping Reel

I know, you’re asking “What the heck is a shipping reel?”. I was asking the same thing. Turns out that wooden reels have been used for decades as the preferred solution for wire shipping, but its inefficient design makes them very difficult and cost prohibitive to ship back because they take up so much space. KALAS Wire, a wire and cable assembly manufacturer was facing increased pressure to reduce some of their operating costs. They hired Bresslergroup to focus on one of their biggest operating costs –the cost of wooden shipping reels used to ship millions of tons of wire and cables across the continental US.

Our assumption that a single plastic reel would be better than a single wooden reel, was also challenged by the life span we planned for this product and the series of Sustainable Minds LCAs we conducted. Our final solution ended up being different than we had imagined, a system of multiple wooden flanges and a single plastic core, with a lifespan that exceeded original expectations.

Here’s what they ended up with:

Their engineering analysis led Bresslergroup to realize that the ultimate reel should not be made only from plastic, but a combination of wood and plastic.  It was counter-intuitive, but made sense from a structural standpoint, and added up from an environmental impact stand point. Sustainable Minds has posted a webinar case study featuring Mathieu Terpault from Bresslergroup:

The benefits go beyond this reel in that the firm has awoken KALAS’ environmental conciseness and inspired the company to look at other ways to improve their “environmental performance.” Now there’s an example of a design firm completely changing they their client thinks and behaves.

So what do you think? Have you been considering a tool like Sustainable Minds to add to your tool belt? What’s been you experience? What were the deciding factors behind that decision?

Also see my article about SM’s other case study on fredsparks’ new eyeware line, info on IDSA’s OKALA Guide and a discount on an SM subscription for IDSA members.

[Full text of Sustainable Minds' case study]

fredsparks Creates Greener Specs Using SM

The team at ID firm fredsparks in St. Louis used green product design software Sustainable Minds to develop the new Misura Eyewear. They used the SM tool to evaluate concept decisions early in the process, allowing them to capture an equity stake in a start up business developing sustainable reading eyewear. The product line is due out this month. So what was their experience using Sustainable Minds?

The business driver for using Sustainable Minds, however, goes beyond ‘the right thing to do.’ As consumer desire to make more socially and environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions continues to grow, we see a future for design that requires knowledge of lifecycle design, and of sustainable design strategies.

Sustainable Minds has published their case study as a webinar featuring Ken Harris from fredsparks:

So one question I have been asking is: does using this tool really make a difference and are clients willing to pay for this kind of in-depth research and integration of sustainability into the design process?

Being an early adopter of Sustainable Minds in the ID consulting arena – we have an opportunity to lead. Often, we find that our ability to offer our clients sustainable design solutions opens doors with them, even if the first project is not expressly a sustainable design initiative.

A couple of interesting notes about Sustainable Minds: First, Sustainable Minds’ life cycle impact assessment (LCA) methodology contains a next generation dataset based originally on the Okala 2007 impact factors, a module in the Okala curriculum guide. The guide was developed under the auspices of IDSA, through financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Design for the Environment Program, Eastman Chemical Company and the Whirlpool Corporation. If you’d like to get more information and download the 2010 edition, you can find it here.

Second, for those of you who are IDSA members (including educators and students), you can get a discount on a SM subscription. More information, with the discount codes, can be found here.

So what do you think? Does it seem viable and valuable to you as a designer? I’m watching how this and other tool like it are being adopted by the design community.

[Sustainable Minds case study (full text)]


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