by Liz White, editor
Texture and tactility featured strongly in the winners of this year’s FSK Polyurethane Innovation Prize, in sculptures with drooping folds and melting globules of polyurethane, and in textured surfaces with a non-slip function, for example.
Two student entries won joint second place of €1500 in the scheme, devised to foster new design by the FSK (the German association of plastic and polyurethane foamers). One was Hagen Ißbrücker’s highly textured skin to apply to surfboards to eliminate the need for repeated waxing.
The other was a group entry from the high school in Munich. Students Martin Kinner, Franz Lutz, Andreas Rutz, Artur Tsavenko and Lukas Wankel, under the leadership of Professor Alexander Horoschenkoff, developed novel PU cores to improve the impact resistance of carbon-fibre skeletons, which can be easily fractured.
Ißbrücker wants to partner with someone who can realise his ideas, in this case a skin with a pattern of knobbly protuberances (see photo). Surfboards are usually waxed for good grip, but waxing has to be done repeatedly with the wax removed and replaced — a costly, labour-intensive approach which is also not very acceptable from an ecological viewpoint, commented Ißbrücker.
The contoured PU surface, which he described as “wave-like,” acts as a traction pad on the surfboard surface.
Ißbrücker used rapid prototyping in the development and tried many different designs to make the mat more efficient, opting for PU foam for its appropriate traction and lightness to keep the weight of the board down, while elasticity was also important.
It was also crucial for Ißbrücker that he could create different reliefs on the sheet and he suggests that such surfaces could also be used on other areas where non-slip features are desirable, such as ship’s decks, washrooms and industrial plant surfaces.
Asked did it tickle the feet, Ißbrücker said no, it feels ‘sticky’ and quite soft on the soles, even though the texture appears hard Opening the awards session 8 Sept at Dow Chemicals’ Stade, Germany site, west of Hamburg, Dow’s Dr Alexander Streitholt, chairman of the FSK’s polyurethane group, welcomed the meeting’s 100 or so delegates, before introducing a rapid runthrough by each of the award winners, explaining their unusual ways of exploiting PU to good purpose.
The FSK points out that it has been rewarding innovative and creative ideas from young specialists in polyurethane for 12 years. “Numerous ideas have already been picked up by the industry and, as products, developed for the market,” the FSK said, noting that for company awards, the idea must already be on the market or have completed the project stage.
Kerstin Sachs received a €500 third prize in the student category for devising ‘junic’ therapeutic foam shapes, for use as a positioning aid in exercises for handicapped children. The device was inspired by personal experience: she has a handicapped 3-year-old daughter, whose muscle condition needed help — but nothing was available.
Hence, Sachs is keen to find someone to commercialise junic.
Sachs wanted a device that could be used with any size of child, with any kind of physical disadvantage She also knew that these aids need to be playful, with no risk of injury. Using foam as the main element meant no hard corners or edges.
What Sachs devised is a foam roll about 20- cm in diameter, made up of separate moulded segments 5-6 cm wide, laid together and covered with soft, brightly coloured leather.
The cylindrical shape helps support the child while giving some resistance to push against.
Sachs chose viscoelastic PU foam for its good feel and durability and made trial runs at the Kunststoff Zentrum Leipzig, using different cores, with laboratory evaluations to determine the right weight and density.
Since the foam is in separate segments, the roll can be twisted into a lot of different shapes.
Sachs made the first ones in alternating red and white to be immediately attractive to toddlers.
A playful approach is essential since the children have to perceive the therapy as fun, not work, she stressed. Often what they are being asked to do is uncomfortable, verging on painful, so the element of play must be at the forefront. They have to come out of ‘safe’ positions and use muscle groups that they are uncomfortable with, Sachs said.
Artistic flair with cans of spray foam “Dreams of foams” was the slogan of Berlinbased sculptor Angelika Arendt, whose artworks are based on many weird and wonderful shapes, some reminiscent of corals, others of tree bark, many in strong colour themes, and all produced using cans of DIY spray PU foam.
Arendt’s very tactile designs proved popular with the audience, and she cheekily suggested that one of the major polyurethane companies might choose one of her large sculptures to improve the image of one of their corporate sites.
Describing the Munich student’s design, Horoschenkoff said that use of carbon fibre materials has often failed because of their high impact sensitivity, which is such that even low impacts can cause significant weakening.
So the idea was to make a carbon-fibre ‘skeleton’ and then encase it in foamed polyurethane. The high processing speed for PU foams make this an attractive potential technology for structural fixation of such skeletons. With the aid of the Polyplan company it became clear that it is possible to fill the chamber with foam in different ways, while tests on the finished structure showed it was highly resistant to breakage, Horoschenkoff said.
A shoe made completely of polyurethane — the Pure 1.0 trainer from BASF — also gained an award. BASF is “not, of course, a shoe maker,” pointed out BASF’s Dr Johann Diedrich Brand. But the materials supplier had a cunning plan in producing this PU concept shoe.
Having a real product to show designers who are interested in using the material is vastly more effective than showing them photos, brochures or technical documents, Brand said.
“We supply PU to the shoe producers, where there are many new applications and ideas, but it is very difficult to break into the market,” he explained.
“You have to influence the designers and decision makers in the shoe sector. Designers want to be able touch, feel and handle something,” he continued. Hence the idea of making a shoe — and the even more ambitious idea to make the complete object from polyurethane.
Brand’s team carried out model studies, developed prototypes, and moulds and used novel ideas such as a TPU lace. The final design, of trainer uses 20 different PU components and 13 different types of materials, he added.
This idea did its job, he indicated, by generating a lot of interest.
Coincidentally, Bayer MaterialScience and Uvex Arbeitsschutz GmbH also won an award for the Uvex safety shoe with lightweight midsole described on p24.
The design of the final prize winner is on quite a different scale: Austrian building materials manufacturer Lasselberger Engineering (LBE) Systemhaus has developed a concept using structural insulated panels (SIPS) to make prefabricated housing.
The technology uses laminating technology from KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH, as described by the equipment company’s Jens Kompe. By the end of this year, he said, the first houses using this technology should be built.
The SIPS are 2.9-m wide by 7.6-m long by 300- mm thick, made by sandwiching insulating PU foam between sheets of wood.
The technology was initially aimed at the Eastern European markets, and the prefab house impressed the jury with its design, purchase price, and the new elements in production technology. “These houses are also ideally suited for fast rebuilding of high quality houses in specific situations, for example, after earthquakes” said Strietholt, as he handed over the certificate.
The SIPS form standardised components for walls and floors. Some 16 prefabricated elements are needed for one house, and can be delivered complete to the production site.
Very little work is needed on site, and this means costs are greatly reduced. The set up is very different to conventional building, said Kompe. The frameless panels are very light but also very strong, he commented, with three layers to the sandwich: 50 mm wood, 150 mm of foam and another 100 mm of wood.
Manufacture of houses industrially in this way is a new route to affordable housing, Kompe said. The panels are of high quality, delivered with all the electrical and sanitary connections in place. The houses look good – no different to other constructions when finished, he added.
Tai Chi with Terrasensa
Terrasensa contoured mats developed by Jens Freitag of Teo Industriedesign GmbH — and now being produced and commercialised by polyurethane processor Hubner GmbH — are destined for therapeutic uses. Stroke and dementia patients specifically benefit from balance training on these mats, and sports training is an outlet.
Terrasensa has featured previously in UTI (Feb/Mar 2010, p31), and Freitag says new developments are afoot, including mats for use outside. A recent demonstration in Kassel, Germany, showed the value of the mats in teaching Tai Chi, a Chinese exercise form where good balance is vital (see pic right).
The shapes and contours of the mat mean that the “foot can always learn something” said Freitag.
Top athletes are interested, as are kindergarten teachers, since, unfortunately, children’s motor development is often poor, he noted.
Hubner’s Michael Kunze said the company aims to “breathe life into it [Terrasensa],” by publicity.
Hubner and Teo Industriedesign have done training sessions with health and sports therapists, trainers and soccer players as well as public displays: the material is slowly getting into the marketplace.
Beauty on display
Jewellery display product maker Kling GmbH “fell in love with PU,” the company’s Erik Raus said, showing his award winning polyurethane display models for necklaces, watches, brooches and rings. Kling is using PU in its niche products for display purposes. These parts are not noticed in the shop window, Raus said: “Shoppers only see the beautiful jewellery displayed on the components.” The company developed a rotational moulding process for the parts, over an 18- month period, said Raus. Kling previously made large-volume parts using a CNC process, but with runs of only 100-1000 pieces, the company wanted a more costeffective route.
The answer was to develop a process for small series without expensive tools. Kling looked at all types of procedures, ending up with rotational moulding, giving a matt product that Raus said, “looks really great.” Big products cost about €50 each, and the tooling costs are €820, so for 1200 parts, the costs work out well, he commented.