• The design and prototyping of innovative sustainable material solutions for automotive interiors

Clark, Sheila, 2019, Thesis, The design and prototyping of innovative sustainable material solutions for automotive interiors PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This research explores the potential for using sustainable materials, in closed-loop
systems applied to aspects of an automotive interior. I approached this by using
materials in separate recovery streams: biological for industrial composting, and
technical for recycling. The thesis sets out the challenges I faced when dealing with
the messy reality of real-world designing. These were: working within established
industrial systems, complex global supply chains, the marketing of materials and
perceived expectations of how automotive products should look. The thesis explores
how, as the research progressed, my thinking about the research question shifted, as
the problem and solution spaces were further explored.
Changing one material element in a vehicle has a cascade effect: this is because
each component is interdependent on another product within the vehicle. The car is a
complex mix of industrially manufactured parts with established systems producing
vast volumes of products for the automotive industry, making them difficult to
change. Remanufacturing of parts, recovery for industrial composting and recycling
requires systems to be created, as described by a circular economy. These are
challenges I faced in making the prototype textiles and interior panels: first, as the
work I made was only one component in a product, how would it be recovered from
the other materials it was connected with, and second, what systems are in place for
recovery as a circular economy proposes? Design for disassembly would partially
resolve this issue, but this would involve a complete redesign of the seat and door,
which would impact on the whole vehicle architecture. Another challenge was in the
transparency of material supply chains and finding information on the true
environmental impact of materials.
The prototypes were created using craft-processes and industrial manufacturing, the
distinction between the two being that the hand-made pieces are imperfect due to the
process and materials used in their fabrication, whereas the industrial recycled
product is identical both technically and visually to a virgin product. This made me
question expectations and perceived expectations of the automotive industry and
their customers regarding material performance and an ‘always new’ look. These
questions arose through making and reflecting on the practical work, which suggests
that there is an opportunity for a new form language for using sustainable materials
in large-scale industrial design applications.
The thesis includes discussion of the practical projects and reflections on the broader
systemic questions that the projects raise, including the nature of practice-based

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > Engineering > H300 Mechanical Engineering > H330 Automotive Engineering > H331 Road Vehicle Engineering
Other > Technologies > J500 Materials Technology not otherwise specified > J510 Materials Technology
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W240 Industrial/Product Design
School or Centre: School of Design
Funders: Royal College of Art Staff Development Fund, Textile Society, Worshipful Company of Weavers
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2019 14:50
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2020 15:56
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3958
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