Organic sheet is a textile-based composite plastic that can be formed under the application of heat in a similar way to sheet metal. It consists of a fiber fabric embedded in a thermoplastic matrix. For the fiber material, finite raw materials such as glass, aramid or carbon are usually utilized. At the Fraunhofer WKI, we have for some time been developing organic sheets for various applications. These sheets are based on natural fibers such as flax or hemp, as well as recycled fibers. In addition to sustainable textile semi-finished products, we are increasingly using recycled or bio-based plastics for the matrix, for example from sugar cane, corn starch or lactic acid.
For the innovative seat shell, we are working in collaboration with designer Jonathan Radetz to make targeted use of the properties of the two components of the organic sheet. Together, the plastic matrix and fabric serve as a load-bearing structure, thereby providing the necessary support. By embedding the fabric in the matrix, it simultaneously receives a protective impregnation. In the same process step, the impregnation is omitted in the area of the seating surface and the fabric is backfilled. The result is an organic sheet with partial padding. In the next step, we process this into a seat shell with the aid of a mold.
A particular challenge is presented by the utilization of discarded and recycled textiles, as the exact composition of such textiles can only be determined to a limited extent. Consequently, it is difficult to predict and specifically influence the compatibility between fiber and matrix. In the project, we are pursuing various approaches in order to make used textiles nevertheless usable for the production of furniture made from organic sheet.
The lighter a product, the lower the consumption of transport energy. Sturdy, durable furniture made from lightweight organic sheet can contribute towards greater resource efficiency - particularly if bio-plastics and fibers made from renewable raw materials or reclaimed textiles are used.
The furniture is easily recyclable, as the organic sheets can be shredded and melted down. The material can then be processed to create, for example, decking boards via extrusion. Or it can be made into short-fiber-reinforced plastic granules for injection-molded parts such as reusable packaging or transport containers. Recycling as a whole is also conceivable.
The chair as a much-used piece of furniture is intended to illustrate the performance capability and design versatility of organic sheet with partial upholstery. The technology could be used in many other areas of application, such as the manufacture of bus stops, sound-absorbing room dividers or vehicle interiors.
For furniture manufacturers, new opportunities are being created which enable a response to the customer's need for individualized, low-cost furniture. The production of furniture from organic sheet offers a high degree of flexibility in terms of material selection and design, as well as prototyping and scalability.
Prospectively, many other companies could also benefit from the technology. It is suitable for interior furnishings in all kinds of settings, such as cars, trains, ships or buildings. Even outdoor use in protected areas such as bus stops or waiting areas at train stations is conceivable.
For companies trading in used textiles, new sales opportunities are also being opened up.