Richard Nass

October 29, 2013

2 Min Read
2 More Innovative Uses of Plastics

Last week, I wrote about the winner of the IAPD Design Challenge, which involved a prosthetic device aimed at children in third-world countries. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the two finalists, Cope Plastics and Vycom.

Cope designed a bearing -- using plastics, obviously -- that substantially reduces the operating costs and improves efficiency of production at a large food products manufacturer. The manufacturer's existing metal design was failing at a highly accelerated rate, resulting in metal contamination of the entire product batch. The failure rate was averaging an alarming 24 to 48 hours after installation. This failure also damaged the matted components.

Cope came up with a replacement using a polymeric bearing design that involved making a bearing that could withstand the specified operating conditions. Since those conditions didn't allow for any lubrication due to the danger of food contamination and high operating temperatures, Cope's Ketron Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) material was selected.

The polymeric bearing was tested initially for two days of continuous operation without failure. They took it out, inspected it, and then put it back in service for 14 more days. Further inspection showed that it was still in great shape.

The Vycom entry centered around using a PVC material in an outdoor environment to create an aesthetically pleasing, yet ecologically friendly, setting. It came together as a joint effort between Vycom and design students from the Harvard School of Design at Harvard University. The students created two framed sculptures called Surface Deep using Vycom's Celtic Ultra white material, which is a solid PVC formulation designed specifically for outdoor environments. The Surface Deep project showed that cities can have a less destructive effect on the local environment by simply putting moss on roofs to prevent heat and run-off from spilling into cities. The students integrated the moss into mock walls, essentially creating a micro-ecology.

The material was chosen due to its lightness, recyclability, nice finish, and the ability to withstand outside conditions, including different climates. It should be noted that the students, much like many people outside the circle of plastics manufacturers and distributors, were surprised that PVC would be the best choice for this design, as it's generally not known to be a green material.

The way the students put it, "The entire design is based upon creating a sustainable life within a concrete jungle."

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