product designer

Eco

Material Choices

The Frame (Birch Plywood)

Finding a material that strikes the right balance between aesthetic appeal and feasibility was rather challenging. Initially, I envisioned the frame being one solid block of oak by milling away excess material. On speaking to the workshop technicians, I realised the idea was pretty out there. Not only would it take days to mill away unwanted material, it would also result in huge amounts of material waste. I began to explore how I could create the frames structure- this can be seen in my Mark II prototype. I created this by spinning two circles on the sander, then adding depth by creating wooden spacers. Once all glued together, I used the staple gun to wrap flexible plywood around the edges of the frame. For my final product, I used a similar method, but with a lot more precision. Again I spun two circles on the sander and cut out the middle sections (e.g. the circle for inserting the light into). I then cut my blocks of wood and removed a section from underneath to allow water to flow through the frame.

Aesthetics

Traditionally used for home furnishings for its ability to make end products look very elegant. It also allows you to customize the end product as you desire; you can leave it untreated or have it stained.

Strength

Birch plywood is known for its durability. The process of forming the birch plywood reinforces the strength of the original piece of wood. It is formed by layering up three or more layers of birch- adding a great amount of stability and strength to the wood.

Safety

Birch plywood does not have many knots or jagged edges. It is smooth and is not known to splinter or crack. This makes the material a popular choice for furniture makers as well as toy makers. Because my product required the user inserting and removing components, it was important to ensure the chosen material is a safe one.

Price

While many materials that are good to look at are pricey, birch ply is good to look at- without being too heavy on the wallet.

Environment

Birch trees are native to northern Europe (mainly Finland and the Baltic) and Russia. It is an abundant, fast growing species. This means that there is no destruction or disruption of biodiversity when birch is felled. Due to the nature of my product, I felt it is better to opt for this renewable source than other options that might have a negative impact on the environment.

Frame (Fibreglass/ Resin Coating)

Making the wood water resistant was probably the biggest challenge-material wise. Having tried to create an inner shell from plastic, I discovered it was interfering with the wooden spacers used to allow the plant pots to be inserted/ removed. In attempt to solve this problem, I took to the workshop and consulted with workshop technicians Sean and Roddy, on waterproofing the wood itself. Although, it was initially suggested to make the frame from acrylic, I opted against it because I felt it would compromise aesthetics too much.

Mechanisms/ Cogs (MDF)

Having experimented with different materials for making the cogs, I found layering them using 4mm MDF the best method. I also found creating the smaller cog from acrylic pretty effective- perhaps the varying texture of the materials helps to create enough friction to rotate the frame. For my final model, I tried to laser cut the cogs from 6mm birch ply. This was very time consuming and the finish didn’t turn out as I’d hoped- the lines ended up too thick and clumsy, to the extent rotation would work. I then decided to remake them from MDF- again using the method of layering.

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Light (Parian Ceramic)

While I wanted to make my light out of ceramic, so that it gives off a nice warm glow- there are few options to do this with. Often when casts are fired, the ceramic hardens to an extent no light can actually be seen through it. Not only does parian allow for a substantial amount of light to shine through, it also has a more vitrified finish than porcelain due to a higher proportion of feldspar.

Plant Pots (White Earthenware)

On experimenting with different ceramic slips, I found that white earthenware was most structurally sound. Initially, I was pretty set on making them from parian. Although on making them, I discovered the parian was too thin and flimsy. Because they are being handled a lot- being taken in and out of the frame, I felt it was important to make them as sturdy as possible. Having previously discovered in my research- earthenware is a great choice for making plant pots. Not only is it significantly sturdier, it is also great for water absorption. I decided to leave them unglazed for that very reason.

Rebecca Williamson