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?