The Polyfloss Factory
Published on November 10, 2012
The Polyfloss team (Nicholas Paget, Emile De Visscher, Audrey Gaulard and Christophe Machet) met at the Royal College of Art. They assembled as a team because their skills were diverse, but their desires and passions are quite similar, they love cool machines, they love beautiful things and they hate waste.
The Polyfloss factory processes plastic waste, typically polypropylene, into a new raw material they call Polyfloss. Polyfloss allows them to design and manufacture new plastic products without expensive or complicated manufacturing techniques such as injection molding. These products have unique properties, most notably thermal or acoustic insulation and the ability to be a multi-structured.
The way they achieve these characteristics and new products is their innovative production method which transforms waste plastic (typically polypropylene) in a process inspired by the principles of a candy floss machine.
It is estimated in the U.K. alone less than 24% of the nearly 5 million tons of plastic waste is recycled yearly. Production using plastic has little human technique, manufacturing plastics almost always requires huge machines controlled by computers. All this makes it a material for mass-production, not appropriate on a small scale. And this has an effect on recycling and re-use: unlike wood, metal or textiles, the knowledge of transforming plastic is exclusive to industry. They have created a way for plastic to be transformed and manufactured on small scale.
The Polyfloss machine works on the same principle as a candyfloss machine. After being shredded the waste plastic is inserted into a rotating oven. Through centrifugal force, the molten plastic is projected through small holes onto a drum. The space between the oven and the drum lining allows the polypropylene to cool down and harden creating fibers. Polyfloss can be easily remelted to create new objects that share different qualities. This unique characteristic is a solution to the problem of separating composite materials before recycling.
Once they have produced Polyfloss, it is very easy to work with. Because the plastic is as fibers, the use of molds and melting techniques are quite simple to put together. The main problem with manufacturing plastic is the huge pressures it requires to mold, whether in an injection molding or rotomolding machine. But because Polyfloss is a wool that tends to take its shape back, it just needs to be compressed by hand in a heated mold to take all the details of the mold and make new objects. There is several techniques they have developed to shape Polyfloss as a post-process. The first one is of course molding, n one part and two parts molds. The second one is welding. They created a modified soldering iron to allow us to weld parts of polyfloss together. One of the application of that technique is pieces of clothes that they created directly on a manequin. Another techinque they used was what they call direct coating. By inserting an object or a mesh directly in the machine, they are able to build a thick coating of Polyfloss. Used for packaging or sculptural lamps, it allows to protect and insulate the objects coated.