Our newest eco-friendly stationery range, conscious living, uses an innovative technique of 3D printing with sugar cane to create pens and pen holders. This zero waste process uses bio-based materials to create renewable, functional and modern products. We visited the east London factory to find out more about the process.
Tell me a bit more about the Conscious Living collection from your perspective.
Julien: It’s a world first. There’s never been any 3D printed collection in the world distributed across a few hundred stores. It’s a challenge and that’s where 3D printing is going to go in the next few years. It was a proof of concept, not just an order, it was a huge challenge and so to find that we did it, we know it’s possible. Now we can move on with new designers, new machines, bring new products to the market.
So what actually are “bio-based” materials?
Julien: It’s made from renewable sources so it’s not made from petrol or fuel which are non-renewable resources. The material we use is PLA which is the most common bio-plastic in the world. Sometimes you find it in plastic bags, biodegradable ones, or you can find it on plastic cups; sometimes the top is biodegradable.
Also the food industry. You have different types of PLA – you have PLA made from corn starch which is more in the US market. In Europe, we use sugar cane which is grown in Thailand and transformed in the Netherlands then they take the “plastic” and mix it with colours to our spools.
It’s very simple material. It’s not really used for engineering or prototypes because it can melt at low temperatures. It’s great for domestic products and stuff like this.
What is the process of 3D printing?
Julien: First, you have many different processes. The one we use is Fuse Deposit Modelling (FDM) which is melting plastic then building up an object layer after layer. It’s like taking a paper printer but adding multiple layers and materials instead of subtracting. It’s a bit like icing a cake. Adding materials on top of each other to build up the material from there. You have a few constraints but that’s pretty much the concept.
So what makes that more environmentally friendly than other techniques?
Julien: The good thing is it takes up low space. 109 machines in 26 square metres. Doesn’t need a huge warehouse and that means you can do it locally. It’s not big, it doesn’t create any crazy fumes and it doesn’t burn any materials because it’s just melting, so it’s not toxic.
It’s very accessible technology. If you wanted to go into making products, you might need £2m to create the products whereas here one machine is about £1000 so you can start off small. There’s a scalability related to the demand so you can grow as demand is growing.
Also the flexibility. The fact that you don’t have to make a mould means it’s very eco-friendly. You can change the products quickly.
If we wanted to give our customers a couple of reasons as to why they should be investing their money in this sort of product going forwards, what would it be?
Julien: The fact it’s made locally, in East London, is key. Ideally, in the future, each city will have their own machines and produce for their own demands.
The fact we can use renewable sources materials like bio-based and recycled plastic. People take their water bottles, shred them then give us these plastic strings to feed the machines. Those two materials are better for the environment.
It’s a completely new world. Also, it only takes six minutes! The paperclips take two minutes to print.
Everyone’s heard about it but you can’t actually find anything 3D printed. If you go to John Lewis or wherever there is no 3D printed product.
is there anything else we should be shouting about around this?
Julien: The fact it’s the first collection ever made by 3D printing. It’s made in London. The fact we are quite flexible with production as well. It’s fine when designs, colours and deadlines change – it’s not like we press a button and it runs for month and we can’tdo anything about it; it’s very flexible technology. 3D printing uses the exact amount that you need to make an object – you’re not cutting something out as a piece, you’re building it up so there is almost no waste and any waste is recyclable.