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.
In this new Design News feature, "How it Works," we’re starting off by examining the inner workings of the electronic cigarette. While e-cigarettes seemed like a gimmick just two or three years ago, they’re catching fire -- so to speak. Sales topped $1 billion last year and are set to hit $10 billion by 2017. Cigarette companies are fighting back by buying up e-cigarette manufacturers.
Microchip recently released the 3D TouchPad, the first USB PC Peripheral device that couples 2D multi-touch input with 3D air gesture technology. The company seeks the help of developers to further enhance the capabilities of the technology.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.