Innovative Recycling is a Swiss company producing recycled carbon fiber non-woven fabric for different applications since 2016. With an innovative Cannon plant, the company makes recycled carbon sheets that, once milled, become dental prostheses (if you missed our first article about this process, catch up here).
A little more than a year after our first meeting, we spoke with Enrico Rocchinotti, CEO of Innovative Recycling, who told us about the activities and experience over the last year and some of the projects in progress.
Hi Enrico, and thanks for this second interview. We met just over a year ago, but it seems like a century. How have you lived through this pandemic year?
The past year has seen a general and worldwide slowdown in all sectors, except a few such as pharmaceuticals. For those of us who work a lot with Southeast Asia, orders for recycled carbon fiber in powder form stopped in April 2020 and only picked up again in November of the same year. Fortunately, we are seeing a boom in demand during this period, so the situation is improving.
But the general slowdown has been compounded by another big problem for us: the inability to move. The product we manufacture in our Cannon plant, an innovative dental prosthesis, needs a promotion that is inseparable from the “physical” participation in conferences and meetings with professionals. Being able to see and touch a denture made of recycled carbon fiber up close is essential to understanding its quality, especially when compared to materials commonly used for the same type of product, such as PMMA, zirconia, or others.
And how did you react to this situation?
First of all, we opened branches in strategic countries, such as Argentina, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, where we decided to make investments. For example, we have taken over dental offices and machinery, and we are beginning to promote and distribute our products directly to our clients. For the other countries, we will find partners who will take care of the distribution.
We also tried to optimize our manufacturing, developing products that always start from a multi-layer slab of consolidated recycled carbon fiber sheets.
Which products have you developed?
The first product we created and which is already on the market are the buckles. The starting slab, which is generally thinner than that used to produce prostheses, is milled into various shapes to create the buckle.
Other projects currently underway involve the production of sports equipment and automotive components.
But, in general, Innovative Recycling fits into a niche market halfway between metal and carbon: recycled carbon fiber is the best solution for metal replacement, with many advantages in terms of price and weight.
A small jump back to the genesis of the plant: when you turned to Cannon, did you already know how to make the finished product?
We had an idea, but there were a few steps to work out, like pre-impregnation. Let me explain: the pre-impregnation of the non-woven carbon fiber fabric is complex. Once it has been laid out and passed through the resin tank, the fabric does not have a very high mechanical resistance, therefore dragging it full of resin entails risks of tearing.
We overcame this problem by quilting the fabric with nylon thread, but the result was not satisfactory.
We turned to Cannon, whose expertise in composites was well known, and presented our problem. Cannon solved the issue by bypassing pre-impregnation and going directly from non-woven fabric to consolidated multi-layer stacks in a single operation.
In my opinion, this is the real added value which makes our plant unique.
Can you better explain the added value you recognize in Cannon’s conception and realization of this plant?
Cannon’s main contribution was to validate – at the same time as the design – some fundamental processes to continue with the project. In other words, a recycled carbon fiber sheet had never been produced in this way; Cannon set up bench tests on the fly on a small scale to validate the solution, thus defining the way forward, all with the support of Cannon’s strong attitude to find a solution to every possible problem.
What are the strong points of this line?
From my point of view, there are two strong points: uniqueness and versatility.
We are the owners of a unique line, custom-designed according to our needs, which allows us to have an extremely high-performance product that is also extremely competitive, even from an economic point of view.
Moreover, the versatility of this plant allows us to produce different products with different technologies, thus improving our competitiveness both on existing products and innovative ones.
Let’s pause for a moment on versatility: which technologies are at the base of the plant?
This line was conceived to manage three different production modes. The first one is the classic mode and is the idea from which the project started: the impregnation with LLD (Liquid Lay Down) technology outside the press. The second mode is the high-pressure closed mold injection (RTM technology), achievable with a minimum adjustment of the mold and plant. Finally, it is also possible to produce using the compression molding technology, thus inserting the pre-impregnated material inside the mold.
And finally, the last question: what’s cooking in the pot?
As I mentioned before, we have a couple of extremely interesting projects underway, and others are in the pipeline. All of these projects involve continuous production cycles of recycled carbon fiber plates. Given our experience, Cannon will be the reference partner for these developments.