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.
The Reee 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 As a result of such legislation, Sony and others were looking at options for disposing of outdated equipment to help them remain in compliance, and Pli saw an opportunity to make the Reee chair go mainstream.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 where SolidWorks' 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.