RUEI-01 - Robotically Recyclable Shoe. Photo by Nikolai Frerichs.
Disassembly process of RUEI-01
Disassembly process of RUEI-01
Label with disassembly instructions and material information accessible via the QR code.
Sorting step. Achieving material fractions of complete accuracy with relevant information provided.
Material fraction from RUEI-01 robotic disassembly recycling process.
Existing footwear material fraction from standard shredding recycling process.
What it does
Post consumer recycled material is typically of poor quality and unable to compete with virgin materials. RUEI-01 applies the use of robotics for recycling into the design, giving the potential to create post consumer recycled material of true quality.
RUEI-01 developed from a research project investigating the realities of object waste and recycling. The research highlighted that by standard, objects arrive at recyclers as unknown entities, with no communication of ingredients and from the get-go this creates endless problems. The waste goods are fed into shredders smashing the objects apart into a mix of materials which are then painstakingly sorted. Coatings, glues, colours, and countless other aspects cannot be identified, meaning pure material fractions are near impossible to extract. This results in recycled materials of poor quality that cannot compete with that of virgin materials.
How it works
Instead of shredding RUEI-01 is designed to 'unmanufactured' by robotics. A QR code on the tongue of the shoe embodies all the object information including 'g.code' robot instructions to perform automated disassembly operations alongside the relevant information on object and materials. This data can be accessed and performed instantly thanks to automation. This allows the shoe to be transformed from object to sorted accurate materials fractions, with all information provided, including material type, grade, source, date and colour codes, ensuring that all the necessary resources are in place for materials to be processed into recycled materials of true quality. If post consumer recycled materials can become high enough quality to remanufacture with then it could see a transition away from virgin materials, preventing the detrimental impacts from extracting and processing new materials.
The footwear typology was chosen as by standard, shoes are non-recyclable and wear out, containing numerous materials glued together. Importantly there are also 3 major recyclable shoe projects being developed by producers which utilise shredding, giving this project commercial relevance and the possibility to directly communicate another potential approach to designing for recycling, by using more contemporary tools. Developing out of a thorough thesis research project, the practical design process was based around testing hypothesis's. I gathered the best resources at my disposal, including a ‘cobot' and intended on best showcasing the concept with these tools. The shoe is intended to also be robotically manufactured making a more succinct process, so I started with exploring different reversible robotically produced joints, referencing manufacturing methods already used. Prototyping and disassembling countless test joints slowly formulated the framework of an assembly which utilises cord, acting as a key to disassembly and avoiding problematic glues. The design embodies mounting points on the outsole meaning that shoes of different sizes and designs can be deconstructed by the same tooling sets, if they feature the same mounts, making for more efficient versatility.
How it is different
Robotic recycling is already implemented by Apple inc for iPhones. My approach differs in that it addresses the application with non-mechanically assembled objects, which has not yet been explored. This means that the design stage is specifically focused on and influenced by using robotics in the recycling process, formulating the scenario of robotics at end of product life becoming a design tool. My concept is also based around designers embedding the currently missing information into objects, making it widely accessible. From the perspective of the current recyclable shoe projects being released, they focus on mono-materialising with a single colour so that by shredding they create a single material output which is verifiable. My approach scopes the potential for utilising the functionality and durability achievable through multi-material assemblies with truly accurate information driven recycling, by use of robotics.
RUEI-01 was created to explore the use of new tools for end-of-life to design. This is something which I believe all designers and producers have to start investing more into, and the project is coming at a relevant time due to Europes new 'Circular economy action plan' which is pushing companies to make more recyclable goods and drive towards creating recycled material of quality. My future intentions for the project are to seek funding and collaborations with producers in order to continue the exploration of the project with the intention of scoping the reality of it being applied by producers.
The project has been awarded two prizes from ECAL (École cantonale d'art de Lausanne) where the project was completed: The BCV Award and the Eyes on Talent Award.