In an effort to extend the life of plastic parts and products, there are many different programmes and innovations being implemented by engineering and design companies. Here are just a couple.

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence Division is using simulation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to design materials that perform better, weigh 40-50% less and have a longer lifetime than traditional materials.

Guillaume Boisot, head of materials engineering at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, said: “When you think sustainability, lightweighting is one aspect of it, reducing weight as much as possible by switching or substituting materials from metal to plastic or reinforcing materials with fibre so we have carbon fibre, glass fibre and some natural fibre.”

Not only does the final product have better properties but, because simulation and AI are being used, the material is being ‘tested’ virtually, meaning that physical materials aren’t being consumed and the only cost is CPU time.

“With our customers we have created maybe the most advanced material database for reinforced plastics,” Boisot claimed: “We need to push the limits of those materials so that we can reduce the weight of a car as much as possible.

“Especially in e-mobility where the biggest issue is battery range. If we can reduce the weight, while improving the materials in and the performance of the battery, we could reach 1,000km ranges.”

Circular lifecycle

Energy chains, or e-chains, are used to protect and guide moving cables and hoses, ensuring reliable power and data supply for moving machinery in applications from offshore oil platforms to machine tools, cranes to theatres.

They are designed to last millions of movement cycles, or three years, after which they are typically scrapped.

Justin Leonard, director of igus UK, said: “We have launched a programme called ‘chainge’ so that customers can send their used e-chains back for recycling to transform them into something useful like construction hoardings and exhibition stands.”

More than three tonnes of e-chains have been collected for recycling by igus and sent to its recycling partner, MyWaste in Hull, where they are remanufactured into Storm Boards – a proprietary name for versatile structural plastic boards. The recycling process comprises several stages. The first is size reduction, using a shredder to reduce the size of the parts to around 20mm. The plastic pieces then enter a granulator, further reducing the material size to 5mm. The e-chain material is then fed into a mixer where it is blended with single-use plastics such as mixed packaging to make a homogeneous material for the board production.

Waffle making

Mike Derbyshire, MY Group site manager, explained: “The board production stage is essentially like a giant waffle-making machine with hot plates that melt and cure the board mixture from both sides at up to 200°C for about 10 minutes.”

First, a skin of finely ground, single-polymer plastic is spread over the plates. Then the mixed material, including the e-chain polymer, is evenly spread across the plate, which provides the board’s core. The system is closed and heated and, once cured, it is removed, trimmed, cooled and quality checked.

“Storm Boards have got a wide range of applications,” said Derbyshire, “such as furniture and shopfitting hoardings, and also in the construction industry. We see it as an eco-friendly alternative to wood products, and it also gives a new life to materials that aren’t currently recycled.” igus offers the Storm Boards as free display stands to its customers. They are installed at their premises and come with a range of igus product samples for them to evaluate.

Extracted from IMechE News- Professional Engineer, Tom Austin-Morgan - read more here

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