Game consoles have a shelf life of about a year or two,
given the public's insatiable hunger for state-of-the-art electronics. Yet,
rather than let the discarded units pile up in some landfill somewhere, a small
UK-based sustainable design consultancy has established a materials source and
created a manufacturable design that transforms unwanted Sony PlayStations into
sleek, ergonomic chairs.
chair from Pli Design Ltd. got
its start on a small scale when Pli Designs was engineering a sustainable chair
for the Eden
Project, a massive greenhouse and environmental center in Cornwall,
England. The center wanted to create a closed loop recycling system that would
transform recycled plastic cups used in its restaurants and cafes into seating
that could be deployed in the same venues. Pli delivered 50 chairs using Eden's
own plastic materials, and quickly realized it was on to something that could
be produced on a much broader scale.
Pli began talking to Sony,
the maker of the PlayStation, about recycling opportunities to expand its Reee
chair vision. Sony, like all electronics equipment manufacturers, was dealing
with the Waste
Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulation, a European directive that
mandates manufacturers of electronics equipment dispose of the equipment in a responsible
manner. As a result of such legislation, Sony and others were looking at
options for disposing of outdated equipment to help them remain in compliance,
and Pli saw an opportunity to make the Reee chair go mainstream.
"In addition to being focused on creating a lean and more
efficient manufacturing operation, these electronics companies now have the
added role of taking responsibility for the goods used and discarded by their
customers," says Christopher Pett, Pli's founder. "It's sounds simple, but it's
actually really complicated in practice."
Thanks to Pli's earlier closed-loop recycling experience
with the Eden Project, Sony was game to come onboard as its single supplier.
Having a single source for plastic was critical to engineering the Reee chair
on a mass production basis.
"When using virgin plastic, it's incredibly reliable to know
what the performance is - what temperature it can be molded at, etc...," Pett
says. "Not so with recycled plastic, which tends to be mixed together a lot.
You've got to find a way to manipulate the supply chain so you acquire a
simple, pure source of a recycled product." In addition to providing a more
reliable engineering material, a single source of recycled plastic also played
to Pli's sustainable focus by creating a shorter supply chain and lowering
carbon costs, he says.
Designing for Disassembly
The polycarbonate abs (PC/ABS) plastic material used in the
Sony PlayStation had everything to do with the way the Reee chair was designed.
"That blend of plastic is typically used in electronics casings and sporting
equipment, but it's unconventional in furniture," Pett says. To accommodate the
dimensional stability and ergonomic flexibility required for the chair, Pli and
its partner, Sprout Design Ltd.,
created a design where a single slatted rib part repeats itself 26 times.
There are also only two molded parts used, which simplifies
the manufacturing process and also helps meet Pli's other big design criteria:
That the chair be created and built for disassembly. "There are no materials
fixed together which require any time consuming or complex action to separate,"
Pett says. "There's a steel frame and a pile of plastic, which makes it
efficient to recycle without mixing any plastics." This design point also
ensures customers can easily replace broken parts on the chair without having
to replace the whole unit, extending its longevity, while also allowing the
Reee chair to be recycled at end of life and used to create additional Reee
offspring, Pett adds.
Another key challenge was not over-designing the chair, the
goal being to keep the amount of plastic materials used to a minimum. That's
SimulationXpress came into play. Using the simulation component of the 3-D
CAD tool, the design team was able to ensure the Reee chair was robust enough
to support sitters without over-engineering the amount of plastic used to create
the seat's ribs. The current formula calls for the Reee chair to use plastic
from nine recycled Sony PlayStation 2 consoles, which means each chair prevents
2.4 kg of plastic from entering a landfill.
Pli expects to ship 3,000 chairs in the next year,
representing 7.5 tons of recycled plastic.