Many designers are looking to a very old
wood-based plastic to achieve a new look that has green values.
One example is a clear protective case
for the Apple iPhone 3G that showcases the device's iconic design. "We wanted a
crystal-clear material with window-like clarity," says Jedd Komlos, lead
industrial designer for Ventev Innovations. The material is called Naturacell,
a durable plastic developed by Rotuba Extruders Ltd
of Linden, NJ,
that blends a natural-based softener with Eastman cellulosics derived from the
pulp of softwood trees.
This plastic has deep roots. Eastman
Kodak founded the Tennessee Eastman Co. in 1920 to manufacture wood alcohol for
film base. In 1932, Tennessee Eastman began production of its first plastic -
Tenite acetate. It was the first thermoplastic and found widespread use in
Craftsman tool handles, toys, sunglass frames, toothbrush handles and
Cellulosic plastics, which are composed
of 40 to 45 percent wood pulp, have a distinct feel and scent. Tenite has been
replaced in some applications in recent years because of its high price
relative to commodity plastics such as polystyrene.
But other designers are latching on to
the sustainability angle. "All of our wood pulp comes from sustainably managed
forests," says Gaylon White, director of design programs at Eastman Chemical,
which was spun off from Eastman Kodak in 1993. "For every two trees that are
harvested, three are planted." Most of the trees come from Southern softwood
forests, and all come from the U.S.
The iPhone case from Ventev accelerates
the sustainable angle by using packaging made from fully recycled paperboard.
But designer Komlos also likes the clarity of Tenite and the surface finish.
"It's very smooth and soft," he says. "If you run your fingernails across the
surface, they glide as smooth as ice."
One big payoff could be interior touch
points in high-end luxury cars, says White. So far, however, there have been no
automotive interior applications.
Dow Chemical and several other companies have launched a program in Omaha, Neb. to divert about 36 tons of plastics from landfills in its first phase, and convert it into energy used for cement production.
Both traditional automation companies and startups are developing technologies to improve processes on the factory floor, while smart sensors and other IoT-related technologies are improving how products are handled during transport and across the supply chain.
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