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Interpreting the language of materials - Babelfish

Published 02/05/2013
It's often said that a picture paints a thousand words. If that's true, then a demonstrator speaks tens of thousands of words. That was the line of thought followed by the project team at Innventia when launching the Babelfish project last autumn, which uses design to interpret the properties of new materials. A demonstrator, made from a renewable board that can unfold itself, is now ready. The next goal is to win a global packaging competition.


"When we speak, it's sometimes hard to make ourselves understood," says Hjalmar Granberg, one of the researchers from the project team at Innventia. "But if we show someone something, we can convey non-verbal experiences. That's why a demonstrator is so important."

In addition to materials researchers from Innventia, the team also includes designers Anna Glansén and Hanna Billqvist.
"We took the material as our starting point, and looked at its properties," explains Anna. "What can this material do, and how can we use it in packaging? What are its advantages?"
"There's usually an idea about the function of the packaging that then gives it a certain form," adds Hanna. "But in this case the form could be inspired by the fact that the material already had a function."

Avoid transporting air

What Anna and Hanna have created is a prototype for dried food packaging, made from a renewable board, which unfolds itself when hot water is added.
"This makes it possible to avoid transporting air in the packaging," says Innventia project manager Sandra Pousette. "Otherwise, air makes up two thirds of such packaging."

No additional stage is required to open the packaging. The packaging opens using the material's properties and its ingenious design, which works together with the contents of the packaging.
"We've experimented a lot with creasing and shape to get the material to behave the way we want it to," continues Hanna.
The demonstrator will be entered into a global packaging competition, with the winners due to be announced on 23 June in San Francisco.

Learn from each other

Through the slightly unusual collaboration between researchers and designers, both parties have had to learn a lot about each other's processes, and the project has not always been entirely friction-free.
"We didn't understand each other initially," recalls Hjalmar. "We never really got exactly what we expected. Instead, we got something else – something just as good."

The researchers were unaccustomed to being able to redo things and to fail several times before finding the right solution. Such a scope is unusual in research projects. As Marie-Claude Béland, one of the researchers in the team, explains:
"We made lots of mistakes along the way. You should have seen Hjalmar's office! At one stage, it was full of prototypes and sketches. We're so used to producing a project plan with activities A, B and C, and then carrying these out and delivering results 1, 2 and 3. We're not used to trying out so many things, then discarding what hasn't worked and starting all over again."
"But for a designer, it's standard practice to produce lots of sketch models. But perhaps not to save them all in your office!" adds Hanna with a laugh.

Prototypes in the lab

For their part, the designers really enjoyed being able to create prototypes in the lab. This enabled them to test the functionality of a new design straight away.
"It was great being able to find out immediately whether the design works in the oven, instead of producing a prototype of what might work in theory," says Anna. "We also learnt the benefit of only changing one parameter at a time, which was extremely useful."

Partnership with the Swedish Forest Industries Federation

The project participants have now developed a taste for this type of collaboration, and are currently looking for other types of project that combine materials research with design. The Swedish Forest Industries Federation has launched the website ekoportal2035.se to inspire the bio-based products and materials of the future.

"Innventia will help to concretise this vision by producing demonstrators in partnership with the Swedish Forest Industries Federation," says Marie-Claude. "We expect the first demonstrators to be ready in October."
"Ekoportal 2035 will allow us to reach out to industry in a completely different way, which is incredibly exciting," concludes Sandra.

Contact

Sandra Pousette
+46 768767080
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Marie-Claude Béland
+46 768767234
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