08 Jul 2020

In the Medical sector, recycled carbon fiber is being used for several applications, such for the production of dental prostheses. We talked about it with Enrico Rocchinotti of Innovative Recycling, one of the companies which produces recycled carbon fiber for different uses.

Due to their inherent features, composite materials are widely used in those applications where lightness, resistance and high mechanical characteristics are required.

Beside a more common employment in fields as automotive or aeronautics, in recent years carbon fibres composites are one of the most chosen materials in the medical sector for prosthesis production, for extremities replacement and, in the dental sector, for prosthetic structures manufacture.

Compared to traditional materials, in fact, dental prosthesis in carbon fiber are lighter, effectively absorb shocks and can be made quickly. For this particular application, furthermore, recycled carbon fiber features a better workability, due to the short fibers which compose it.

About dental prosthesis and other applications of recycled carbon fiber we talked with Enrico Rocchinotti, CEO of Innovative Recycling, a Swiss company which industrialize the production of carbon fiber using the carbon waste collected from other companies.

Since 2016 Innovative Recycling produces non-woven fabric in recycled carbon fiber for several applications, such as medical, automotive, constructions, energy, sports and marine.

Mr. Rocchinotti before starting with our interview, we would like to thank you for your availability in responding to our questions. Let’s talk about recycled carbon fiber: how is your business born?

“The original idea of ​​producing non-woven carbon fiber fabric for various applications was not ours and dates back to about 10 years ago. The scrap of dry carbon fiber was collected from other companies which employed “vergin” Carbon fiber in their processes, and was worked to create non-woven fabric. This product certainly had good potential, but volumes, finances and machinery for large-scale production were lacking.

In 2015 my business partner, Luca Mattace Raso, and myself decided to invest in the industrial production of this fabric, and the following year Innovative Recycling was in production”.

And did you start to market this non-woven fabric?

“We tried to commercialize it, yes, but in the meanwhile we realized that as half-processed product, this fabric hadn’t market. It was necessary to take a step forward and to offer to the market a finished product. Then we found an Italian company operating in the dental sector, on the forefront in proposing dental prosthesis in carbon fiber. They were looking for a material from which to get 81 disks that, after being milled, allow to obtain a very innovative dental prosthesis.

Well, our mat, impregnated with a bioresin specifically developed, and transformed in a plate of one square meter and 2 cm thick, was right for them”.

And how does this carbon fiber become a plate?

“In order to obtain a sheet of high mechanical features, we couldn’t use the traditional production method with pre-impregnation. The non-woven fabric in recycled carbon fiber, in fact, once put in a line to be pulled, impregnated with resin and then pressed, it tore. We therefore turned to Cannon and together we studied an alternative solution. The non-woven fabric is thus cut in sheets of one square metres, impregnated with a bioresin (which has been specifically developed by Jaime Ferrer–Dalmau of R* Concept) through liquid lay down (LLD) technology in a dedicated station, put on other sheets equally impregnated – 70 of them are stacked – so to form a mat and then are pressed into a hot mould and a 750 tons press.

With this process we obtain the plate from which to get the disks for dental protheses”.

What an interesting application. Why recycled carbon fiber was so suitable for dental prosthesis?

Carbon fiber, in general, is a very light and flexible material. It weighs one eighth of the materials currently on the market and used for this application, such as zirconia, ceramic and titanium, and due to its features, it gives the feeling of having your own teeth. This is an incredible material for this specific application because it has better biointegration, greater fatigue resistance and maximum flexibility”.

Let’s do a step back: where do you get the carbon fiber you regenerate?

“Our supplier are mainly Italian companies that use carbon fiber in their productions. They have about a 25% of waste. This waste is not impregnated with resin, but the carbon fiber is dry and we treat it with a cold mechanical process. Part of this material is grinded, and is used in the automotive sector for brake pads production. Another part is chopped and is utilized in construction to be meshed with mortar or cement bond. And the finest is weaved”.

How Cannon supported you in this complex project?

“We faced with you all the phases and, certainly, the problems related to the manufacture of this product, and we have to say that the availability of your laboratory for doing tests and the support and competence of your technicians have been pivotal to develop and tune the whole process. The result is that we succeeded in industrializing such a complex product in about 6 months, a very short time considering that the average time is commonly 5/6 years”.

Are there other applications for this plate or for recycled carbon fiber?

“At present, we are working mainly in the medical sector. The plant we bought from you have been conceived to be dedicated to medical applications. Now we are studying the way to produce the same plate with a thickness of at least 4 cm, from which we can obtain prostheses for joints. It is a very challenging project.

Other applications of this material are walls for naval cabins, false ceilings, parts of car braking systems, rear part of aircraft seats, aesthetic parts…”.

And what about future projects?

“Our ambition, in partnership with Cannon, is to find applications for recycled carbon fiber that can replace metal. One of the products on which we are focusing on is the belt or shoe buckle. A buckle in carbon fiber sensibly reduces the overall weight of the final product. Moreover it will be radiotransparent, being a non-metallic part, and you may no longer have to remove your shoes and belt during airport checks, for instance!”