REPP – or Rubber Environment Protection Profiles – is the name of a rubber product with the main aim of protecting road users, cyclists and pedestrians from injuries that can occur in the event of a collision. The product development and the design process were part of a Master’s degree project carried out by industrial designer Katarina Segerberg, via the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University in Sweden.
“If someone tells me ‘That’s impossible’, ‘It won’t work’ or ‘There’s no better solution’, that ignites something within me. A spark, a motivation, and a desire to improve things. For me, the impossible just takes a little longer. Hasn’t that always been the way?”
It was with these words that industrial designer Katarina Segerberg began her degree project presentation at the annual Tyre Industry Day in Stockholm on 10 May 2022. The text below is taken from Katarina’s presentation, in which she describes the entire project from the beginning to the result. But first Katarinas thoughts of working with the material and recommendations.
"Working with working with the material in granulate form is far easier than some might think. However, I also see great potential in developing forms of recycled tyre rubber other than granulate (and the forms developed in her degree project). Succeeding with this will open many more doors, which in turn will make it easier to use the material to a much greater extent than is currently the case. In addition, I recommend that those who are interested in testing the material should read up as much as possible within the field to get a good grounding and to have the answers ready when people ask about the material. This journey has so far taken me ino areas I never could have imagined at the outset, and that investigating something new with huge potential to create revolutionary products is incredinly exciting"
When Katarina began her degree project in industrial design at the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University, Sweden, her idea was to improve the circular economy for tyres, despite a lack of knowledge about the actual breadth and complexity of the industry. Instead of seeing this as a barrier, she chose to see it as a challenge which – just like many other things – one needs to become familiar with in order to understand it more easily.
Right from the start, recycled tyre rubber felt like a natural choice of material for Katarina to focus on in her degree project. She first heard about it during a talk about a type of flooring produced from materials including recycled rubber granulate. This inspirational subject area stayed with her. When the time came to choose a subject for her degree project, examining this material in greater depth felt both inspiring and exciting, despite being an area that even today remains relatively unresearched and, according to Katarina, underexploited.
As a general rule, there are five areas where society needs to change when it comes to how we consume and recycle if we want to improve and achieve a circular economy:
Reduce our consumption of new things
Be smarter about product and packaging design
Recycle more materials
Recover energy from what cannot be recycled and is therefore sent for incineration
As part of her fact-finding mission, Katarina investigated today’s recycling pathways and the relationships and connections within the field. She learnt that all these areas are interconnected. Making changes in the field as a whole therefore requires changes in all areas. With limited time, it was not possible for Katarina to take on all these areas. Instead, she needed to identify the area with the greatest potential for her to address as an individual designer.
Katarina compared the individual areas and how one goes about improving a circular economy with issues of relevance to the project’s focus. Her conclusion was that area 3. Reuse the material from tyres more was the most advantageous and had the greatest potential for her to continue working with.
So what is the challenge in this area? When does that challenge arise? And why does the challenge arise? Katarina broke the questions down to identify the actual challenge and to analyse whether an appropriate design solution exists. She discovered that such a solution does indeed exist.
Cooperation with the Swedish Tyre Recycling Association
In early 2021, Katarina began working with the Swedish Tyre Recycling Association, a non-profit company which organises the collection and recycling of used tyres based on the statutory producer responsibility. At this point she began to understand the challenges involved and the breadth of the project, but remained convinced that as a designer she could bring new perspectives, knowledge and solutions that other people hadn’t previously thought of.
Important information and conclusion
Based on her fact-finding research, Katarina learnt that it was particularly important to keep certain factors in mind in a project to create a new product within this field:
Use rubber for its properties (not just as a filler)
Is there a demand for the recycled rubber application and can it help to reduce resource extraction in future, or can the application replace another material that might be of greater benefit elsewhere?
Can this in-demand application handle large volumes of reuse?
Another important conclusion was that today’s material forms are not used to their full capacity. Katarina explains that once a transformation has been passed, several other material forms that could have been created in between are lost.
Two new forms
In addition to the two existing forms that are currently used, i.e. whole tyres and granulate, Katarina’s next step was to develop additional alternatives. This resulted in two new forms: a rope form and a fabric form. It was now time to come up with new ideas.
Twenty-three different ideas were generated and categorised based on their manufacturing form. These included creating a central cable barrier or a ratchet strap out of rubber. The fabric form resulted in ideas such as entrance mats, industrial counters, partition layers, furniture and water pipe insulation from whole tyres. The granulate form led to ideas involving outdoor gyms or pallets. Katarina says that this is only a fraction of what could be created now the material forms have been expanded:
“At the end of the day, they’ve been there in front of our eyes all along. We just haven’t looked closely enough to see all the opportunities for what we can actually create.”
Three models developed
The developed ideas were evaluated using two different methods, resulting in three ideas with the greatest development potential from the evaluated areas:
First idea: “B1 – traffic barrier”
Second idea: “B3 – traffic pole"
Third idea: “R3 – rubber cable barrier”
The first idea, a traffic barrier, is based on a concept of casting a rubber barrier that can be used to provide protection during rebuilding work or at other locations in traffic such as arm barriers. The second idea, a traffic pole, was inspired by opportunities to protect road users in an additional way. A soft outer layer of rubber creates a whole new level of protection in the event of collisions. The third and final idea, a rubber cable barrier, involves developing a rubber rope which uses the elastic properties of the rubber to absorb forces in the event of a collision.
All three ideas are within the same application field: road safety. By improving safety for the same users – road users – Katarina was able to progress with all three ideas at this stage of the project. She goes on to explain that since the field of application already involves tyres, acceptance for reusing the material is much higher than in many other areas of society.
The time had come for Katarina to develop her concept and take the ideas further with the aim of coming up with potential concepts. Here, the following questions arose: What are the design opportunities? Which details can be refined? And how can a product’s purpose be improved using design?
During this stage, Katarina carried out interviews with experts in the field and conducted a deeper analysis in order to identify which concept had the greatest potential for her to continue working with on a more detailed level.
The second idea, “B3 – traffic pole”, was selected
The analysis showed that “B3 – traffic pole” was the concept with the greatest potential for Katarina to realise. She carried out further work, deeper analysis and detailed development, this time focusing on the single idea selected.
Alternatives were sketched out for how the profiles could be attached to a post. Should there be some kind of lock? Or could they be attached directly to each other? Or directly to the metal? And should there be some form of protective plastic on the inside to be removed before installation?
At this stage of the project, she also took a closer look at adaptation in line with different positioning. Since all traffic posts are designed in different ways depending on their function, it needed to be possible to adapt the concept based on their design. This resulted in several alternative profiles being developed alongside the standard profile, as well as different degrees of softness depending on where the posts would be positioned.
“Protection that minimises injuries is good, but if it can prevent injuries completely that’s even better, of course,” says Katarina, referring to the possibility of using reflectors. Adding reflectors to the profiles provides an opportunity to inform road users about their positioning and thereby improve the chances of avoiding collisions. Finally, the possibility of casting in a logo was also investigated. In this case, casting is a suitable manufacturing method for the profiles, and also provides the option of casting in a corporate logo.
Installation and disassembly
“The nature of the design and installation can either support or hinder disassembly,” continues Katarina. “It can also be easier or harder for the profiles to be vandalised, depending on their form.” The most appropriate design for the profiles’ longitudinal contact edges therefore turned out to be the following: *visa bild* This design offers additional strength along the contact edges, and the same casting mould can be used for manufacturing.
Design 2, with a 45-degree angle, was chosen for the upper and lower edges of the profile, since this was the most suitable design for avoiding water ingress between the profile and the post.
Katarina explains that the visual prototype she produced was created to get a better understanding of what a real product could look like.
“A product to increase acceptance for recycling and to highlight a solution to a challenge that society needs to tackle if we are to be able to reuse materials from tyres to a greater extent in future. However, we can’t take into account the properties and the function of the prototype.”, explains Katarina.
The end result: REPP
The product that Katarina designed and developed is a rubber profile made using rubber granulate from worn-out tyres. Its primary purpose is to protect road users, cyclists and pedestrians from injuries that can occur in the event of a collision. The product is called REPP (Rubber Environment Protection Profiles), and is an example of how the circular economy can be improved using design.
Target group and environment
The rubber profiles are placed around traffic poles, and are particularly suitable for use in urban environments where many people pass by on a daily basis. Other environments and spaces can also benefit from this rubber protection, such as stair railings, playgrounds, arm barriers and poles on ski slopes. Katarina adds that anyone in the surrounding area is a potential user.
REPP is made using rubber granulate from worn-out tyres, which is then moulded to ensure the best possible surface finish for the end-product. Depending on the height of the profiles, the bottom can be cut to obtain the desired length. The profiles are then fitted by gluing two profiles together along their longitudinal contact edges around a traffic post.
The images show how profiles are fitted around a post. Here, you can see that the profiles fit each other and how two profiles enclose a post together.
The rubber profiles are used to protect the post, and also to protect individual citizens during the period that the protection is in place. In the event of a collision, extreme vandalism or some other type of damage, the profiles can be replaced in accordance with instructions. When the profiles need to be disassembled, this is done using an angle grinder. A specially designed cutting disc is used to avoid cutting too deeply into the post, and is adapted according to the thickness of the profiles. After disassembly, the profiles can be reused as new profiles and any reflectors can be reused in line with existing methods.
Different variants and aesthetics
REPP is available as a standard profile with reflectors for areas that are particularly prone to damage. The profile is also available in two different softnesses, allowing for optimum results depending on the application. The softer variant is suitable for playgrounds or other areas that require slightly softer protection, while the firmer variant is better suited to busier surroundings. REPP is also available in different colours, depending on the aesthetic requirements for any given environment. For example, as Katarina explains, a green profile on a traffic post would create a completely different atmosphere in a park compared to a black profile.
The image below shows an entire standard profile and an enlargement of the upper and lower edges. To ensure the most appropriate level of protection from the product, it is recommended that the entire length should be used with any signage positioned above it. The dimensions for a size M standard profile are 2200 mm with an outer diameter of 100 mm. This profile fits posts with an outer diameter of 60 mm, which is the most common size.
About the rubber
Shredding a worn-out tyre into small pieces and separating the rubber from the steel, textiles, studs and gravel gives a rubber granulate with a selected grain size of 0–5 mm. REPP is made using rubber granulate from worn-out tyres, which is 100% recyclable and can be used again and again. The rubber is also urine-resistant and extremely hardwearing. This means that it can be used for a long time before it needs replacing. Katarina also explains that the salt which is currently used on our roads will not affect the rubber significantly, and that the material in REPP will instead protect posts which would otherwise corrode much more quickly.
Can REPP improve the circular economy?
The REPP product cannot immediately improve the circular economy. However, Katarina emphasises that it can do so in the long term. Old REPP can be used to create new REPP, and once acceptance has been created within society for the reused material, there will be opportunities to reuse the material from REPP for other products. By doing so, we will therefore have created a circular economy system.
The circular economy system
In this case, rubber material from tyres is sent to the circular economy system. Here, the materials can be circulated time and time again. The raw material that would have been used for all products within the circular economy system will be saved. A single product will not have much of an impact, but once we have a hundred, a thousand or even a million products in the system, this will result in a change that can have a noticeable impact on the circular economy of tyres.