Making the design world resonate

A design office in the Cologne area is inspired by innovative materials
Furniture designers are always on the lookout for new materials that put a breath of fresh air into offices, conference rooms and living rooms. So the continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites (CFRTP) made by Covestro fell on very fertile ground in this industry: they inspire the product designers not only with their extraordinary stability at the lowest-possible weight, but also with their unusual, novel aesthetics.

“An exciting, authentic material that looks very organic” is the opinion of Thorsten Frackenpohl, for example, who heads a successful design office south of Cologne. CFRTP materials could give completely new impetuses to furniture design. And with the economically efficient processing methods long established with thermoplastic plastics, they can also be efficiently produced.

Thorsten Frackenpohl pulls a heavy shelf out of the wall. It contains several handy, black containers that are brimful with things you could also find in a hobby cellar: plastic samples in all imaginable colors, sponges, cartons, wood, colorfully printed cartons. But this is no hobby workshop; its one of the hottest design offices in the Cologne area: the Noto GmbH in Hürth. The cabinet is standing in a brightly lit conference room, only separated by a glass wall from the young Noto employees workstations on whose screens some of the ultimate must-haves of tomorrow are just starting to evolve.

And Thorsten Frackenpohl, dressed in jeans, a gray sweater and a loosely-tied scarf is one of the company’s CEOs. Next he pulls out a box labeled “Covestro”. It has rolls with black tape, thin black plates the size of a letter envelope, a laptop cover with the logo of the plastics-experts from the Rhineland. “That is our materials achieve,” the designer explains, “and these are sheets made of CFRTP, a completely new material with which we are experimenting right now.”

An aesthetic material
“For us it is very important to be able to touch things,” Thorsten Frackenpohl explains. “What does a material feel like, does it seem cold or warm? That is important. And listen to this,” he says as he knocks his wedding ring against a thin disc.

“We designers like to try new things. New materials open up doors to new innovations for us. And Covestro CFRTP entails some truly magnificent properties. It seems to be almost organic, making it exciting, unusual, novel. It sounds like metal but has an appearance completely different from the carbon-fiber reinforced plastics available up to now and that look gives the product a completely new optical direction. ”

In fact, nowadays if you think about parts made from conventional CFRP non-woven fabrics you would probably think of Formula One or aerospace – and you have probably had your fill. “In contrast, the fibers in the CFRTP sheets have an effect almost like wood grain – but only almost. The material is authentic; it doesn't pretend to be something it is not. It’s packed with a huge number of possibilities.”

From consumer electronics to furniture design
Some of those are furniture, chairs, or perhaps a table? Actually, the Noto designers in their stylish work loft have acquired their merits rather with products from the consumer electronics sector – in company handouts printed on thick paper you can find speaker cabinets, routers, sound systems and even snowboard boots all of which exude a chic and yet discreet charm.

The walls of the seminar rooms in the basement where the 3D printers and workplace desks are located are decorated with product ideas in various development stages. But furniture – so far, furniture has rather been ignored, and many other designers are already playing around in the field. And the first idea after the first reach for the CFRTP samples from Covestro was for something completely different anyway: drums.

Paper-thin and yet extremely stable
Since Frackenpohl has been dealing with the brand-new sheets for quite a while he quickly realized: they are far too good for just a drum set. After all, not only does the material have a surprising sound: the nearly paper-thin CFRTP sheets are most notably extremely light and nevertheless incredibly solid. “I was attracted by the idea of turning it into something where at first sight you say: that just can’t be!”

A table, for instance, that you wouldn’t trust to support everything you could put on it. That in principle you could balance on one hand – but which still surprises with a metallic sound if you put a glass on it. Or a chair that seems so delicate that at first you can’t believe what it can withstand. “As an example, it’s hardly possible to make cell phones any thinner. And they don’t need to be since they are already handy enough. But there is still plenty of design freedom for furniture.”

Furniture in carbon appearance
Frackenpohl is especially fascinated by the “formal-aesthetic appearance” of the new continuous carbon-fiber material: “There are already many simulated surfaces on the market.” On top of that, Covestro CFRTP is opening up new business doors. You can already get “carbon-look” furniture, explains Frackenpohl, but that is usually just individual projects: the fact is that classic carbon-fiber processing is very expensive.

But furniture made of CFRTP should be significantly less expensive to manufacture since a combination of the classic processing methods with injection molding and thermoforming can be drawn on; methods which are long established in the industry and which can be run with great economic efficiency. In particular, the cycle times for CFRTP are considerably shorter than when producing “classic” carbon-fiber components, which in part is still run manually and which require a lot of rework. “It might even be possible to convert on-going projects to CFRTP” says Frackenpohl: that is nearly already a “democratization” of the carbon fiber.

“The material will take off!”
But at the moment this is only tables and chairs. For the latter, Noto even already has concrete models on the starting line – Frackenpohl places some of them on the conference room table, hand-sized, with legs made of furniture-making wire and, in the basement in a corner next to the 3D printer and table saw, you can already marvel at some appropriately formed CFRTP sheets: thin like the wall of a milk carton, but already clearly recognizable as a seat.

Frackenpohl stands up and puts the Covestro sample box back in the storage room. There will probably be a lot of discussions in front of the beamer screen at the conference table on the final shape of the chair in the near future – and the table has not come much further along than the many ideas on the movable walls in the cellar seminar rooms that, covered with stickers in various colors, are waiting for their realization – at least tentatively. “In industrial design, at the end only one out of a hundred ideas is actually achieved; the rest stay in the draft stage. But Covestro CFRTP is already letting the design world resonate. As soon as the first parts go into production, things will take off,” says the materials expert from Hürth with certainty.

About Covestro:
With 2017 sales of EUR 14.1 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, and electrical and electronics industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics, health and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employs approximately 16,200 people (calculated as full-time equivalents) at the end of 2017.

Find more information at www.covestro.com and www.cfrtp.covestro.com.
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Forward-looking statements
This news release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Covestro AG. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include those discussed in Covestro’s public reports which are available at www.covestro.com. The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.