New Materials Round Up
Our new materials round up has been devised in collaboration with Design Engineer, Matt Beamish; it features some of the most ground-breaking new materials we have either used, encountered or been inspired by recently. Huge strides are being taken to deliver new sustainable materials that don’t demand a compromise in the quality and finish consumers have come to expect. The result of this, is new materials that tackle the heart of the waste crisis with a combination of biochemistry and commercial awareness in order to present viable alternatives.
The exciting material company Sulapac was founded by biochemists Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo in Finland, 2016. The pair started the business after recognising the sheer volume of single-use plastic products and packages in every individual household. Determined to change this scene, the Sulapac business and brand was born and since 2016 has developed a range of sustainable materials which provide a welcome alternative to plastics. Sulapac’s mission is to create a range of plastic alternatives which are “like nature”. Sulapac’s definition of a material “like nature” is one that is beautiful and functional in equal measure, therefore taking the earth as its muse. It’s not just inspiration that’s drawn from nature for Sulapac: the materials are fully biodegradable and unlike their plastic counterparts, do not leave damaging microplastics behind. Sulapac is ambitious in its bid to ultimately replace plastics and have recognised that to really disrupt the status quo and bring their sustainable alternatives to the mainstream, the materials must deliver what consumers have come to expect from plastic. Evolving out of an initial focus on packaging, Sulapac soon saw the opportunity for more applications of their material. To date, Sulapac materials have been used for food products, luxury cosmetics and more applications.
Trifilon produce sustainable biocomposites, the business was sparked by an immediate desire to change the way we consume and use plastics, starting from now. Trifilon’s new alternative materials have been inspired by the widespread use of Carbon Fibre material to accelerate improvements in product performance. Trifilon acknowledge that many of the plastic products we use enhance daily life, therefore any alternative should seek to do the same thing. Carbon Fibre is increasingly used across the aerospace and automotive sectors due to the material advantages it offers, including being lightweight without compromising strength. Trifilon’s intention was to devise a material that offers these benefits, but that was also more recyclable. To do this, Trifilon’s researchers turned to the natural world, they found that fibres from Hemp plants possess many comparable material qualities to Carbon Fibre, including tensile strength and low density. Trifilon’s material range includes Trifilon BioLite, Trifilon Switch and Trifilon Revo. These materials are particularly interesting because the materials can be coloured (typically recycled plastics are darker) and a variety of surface finishes can be achieved.
Kelpi are an innovative new company who are using seaweed to create unique biopolymers with which they are creating bioplastics intended for packaging. Kelpi are currently working with the University of Bath to do this. One of the key features of Kelpi’s bioplastics is that the material is not just biodegradable but compostable which is significant benefit that Kelpi passionately emphasise. Terming seaweed as a “Miracle Crop”, Kelpi are harnessing all of the most valuable characteristics of seaweed. In particular they highlight that seaweed not only doesn’t require the use of oil for production (as plastic alternatives do) but as it naturally grows it re-oxygenises the ocean. Kelpi were recently chosen as one of 15 SMEs to be involved in InnovateUK Edge’s Pitchfest and are set for even more exciting growth.
New Sustainable Materials for use in Additive Manufacturing
While it’s exciting to see the development of sustainable alternatives that can be used with existing manufacturing set-ups such as injection moulding, the opportunity to experiment with smaller product ranges of 3D printed end-use products has also led to the creation of new materials for additive manufacture. Some examples of materials ITERATE have recently used in-house include Fishy Filaments, a material comprised of fishing nets from the ocean which aims to transform end-of-life fishing products. We have also used a biocomposite beer filament with a PLA base, wood PLA (40% wood fibre; 60% recycled PLA) and a filament that is made from 100% recycled post-consumer plastic bottle waste.
Material Innovation from a Product Design Engineer’s Perspective
Matt shared how the use of PLA with the addition of natural fibres and particles is revealing interesting new performance characteristics for materials. PLA is most commonly used in FDM printing (Fuse Deposition Modelling) and produces very rigid parts with good strength; these properties could be very favourable in certain applications. Newer materials are increasingly using a form of naturally sourced fibre or particles such as wood or Hemp for example. Matt explained that these fibres can act in a similar way to glass-fibre in traditional materials such as Nylon. When glass-filled, materials like Nylon exhibit enhanced mechanical qualities such as improved rigidity, strength, and surface hardness. These materials can also be more intriguing aesthetically, often they have an interesting natural colour. These materials often also have a speckled appearance due to the presence of natural fibres or particles and the natural variance in a material batch produces parts with their own unique look and feel every time.
Successfully Using New Materials within Product Development
Matt shared that using new materials can lead to certain challenges when it comes to design for manufacture. While it’s exciting to see that new – and often sustainable – materials can be injected moulded, the material may not respond to moulding in the same way as traditional materials. Details such as draft angles, wall thicknesses, and corner radii can require more thought and consideration to ensure the design can be moulded successfully. Nonetheless, the material manufacturers are often very forthcoming, providing detailed information about best design practise for the material. In Matt’s experience, material manufacturers also enjoy being involved and consulted in the design process as they are equally as invested in the product’s success.