Fluidity of Plastic (2016)

Fluidity of Plastic (2016)

Ross Stevens

The practice of separating household waste for recycling is a widespread global phenomenon. But we are yet to see significant evidence of ‘closing the circle’ – in the form of traditionally manufactured products made from reconstituted waste. 3D printing offers new opportunities for upcycling plastic in this domestic setting.

Current plastic recycling struggles to cope with the vast range of plastic types and their specific recycling qualities.

But, all ‘plastics’ are polymers, which means that through different processes they can be shaped in many different ways.

Tackling the waste stream one polymer at a time, Ross Stevens researched using filament recycled from drink bottles (PET). His initial research in 2015 focused on the fluidity of code and its relevance to the industrial design process. Now he has examined the fluidity (ability to be shaped) of plastic and what it can mean for Industrial Design and its impact on the environment.

The benefit of plastic shapeshifting from a drink bottle to a loudspeaker at low temperatures (approx. 200 °C) requiring considerably less energy than glass or metal is worth future considerations. This is perfectly matched with a computer’s ability to generate and manipulate forms on screen. 3D printing is the simplest way of transporting these designs from the screen into the physical world without the need for expensive and inflexible molds.

The loudspeaker was created with generative code-based free software (Shapeshifter in Autodesk’s 123D design) and took only 8 minutes to create, using a modifiable template that even a child could use on a phone. A form was quickly created well beyond the Designer’s imagination and comprehension. Adding the electrical components to the 3D printed shell was equally fast requiring only 30 minutes to assemble a pair of working speakers. This is critical because the ease of assembly equates to the ease of disassembly at the end of its current life.

A great loudspeaker for now, this ability to shapeshift means it could have a future life as any number of designed objects.

Materials and Processes – close up


Autodesk Shapeshifter, TinkerCAD


BigRep (in-house), recycled PET filament

Project level

This project was undertaken as university research by Ross Stevens.

BigRep files modified by Bernard Guy, printing supervised by Mark Bagley