Biomimetic file 153: fire retardants

How to re-design effectively without crossing the safety boundaries

_dsf7571Image: Creative commons. Product safety*: Under the ACL, Commonwealth, state and territory ministers can regulate consumer goods and product-related services by issuing safety warning notices, banning products on a temporary or permanent basis, imposing mandatory safety standards or issuing a compulsory recall notice to suppliers.

Highlight: “Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have developed a new flame-retardant substance based on a natural chemical used by mussels. Flame retardants are a coating added to manufactured materials that can stop or delay the spread of fire. They are used in the textile, computer, and construction industries, but most traditional flame retardants are highly toxic. This study, published in Chemistry of Materials, is an important breakthrough in creating non-toxic flame retardant materials…”

Insight: A common dilemma in products development is to come-up with functional efficient products but at the same time not to compromise safety for human usage. It can often be a challenge as toxicity is a common outcome of improved efficiency especially when dealing with chemicals (e.g. the Superglue). Nature often provides solutions because efficiency within organisms can only be within certain limits that prevents the species from destroying themselves. Examples would include self physical protections against the toxins (e.g. Puffer-fish contain very toxic substances but these are confined within organs layered with special coatings to neutralize the toxin) or self immune compounds (e.g. venomous snakes)…

Businesses are constantly pressured to innovate in order to remain competitive which sometimes puts products safety* in the balance. By wanting to develop better user experiences it is not difficult to compromise safety which should of course never happen. The trick is to adapt and evolve safety standards along with product design enhancements and not to assume that a previous version safety measures will necessarily continue to apply to the upgraded product…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A large paint and interior finishing company has a well established name in the industry and takes the main share of the market. Over the years they have come-up with numerous variants of their products to fit different customer usages from metal adhesive paints, to rain resistant, anti bacterial, anti corrosive…A new trend lately has to do with Eco friendly products which in the paint industry is strongly focused on VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) control. The company’s research department is tasked with upgrading one of their best selling products to become the lowest VOC containing paint currently on the market. The experienced researchers find a solution and manage to produce a paint with very low VOCs that will meet the requirements of any third party Eco certifications out there. Very pleased of their work the team submits the finding to the management which shortly after gives the green light for commercialization. The product is a big hit and sales very well,  everything goes according to plan until reports of negative consumer feedback start to come-in. Some reports claim that after four months of application the paint starts to suddenly peel-off like a snake skin and that some pieces from the bedroom sealing have unexpectedly fallen into peoples eyes. The company quickly investigates and finds that the new formula despite successful at reducing the VOC content has modified the chemistry of the product which was approved according to previous aging safety and durability tests conducted on the previous composition. Thereafter, the company is forced to remove the product from the market and resume the development to solve the issues and conduct further tests. This case has cost the company over US 30 millions in reclaimed products and law case settlements…

Are you planing to release a product upgrade to meet market demand? If so, perhaps take the time to properly re-test the new upgraded product for safety, user experience and other key per-release tests.  Assuming that the previous batch of tests will suffice could end up being a costly and difficult to recover mistake…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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