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A design approach to high performance composites

Carbon fibre lightweight guide dog harness

Industrial designer Genevieve Rossi turned to carbon fibre to produce a lightweight guide dog harness.

Industrial designers are key to expanding adoption of advanced composite materials in manufacturing, according to Geoff Germon, CEO of Sydney-based carbon fibre and Kevlar product designers, Talon Technology.

“The development of consumer products usually involves professional industrial designers who generally make the decision on the right material for the task. By the time the project goes to engineering the materials are locked in. So why are almost all the carbon fibre studies at a university level in Australia focused on engineering and not design?” asks Germon.

Working with his alma mater, the Design School at the University of Canberra, Geoff is seeking to bridge that knowledge gap. He and Dr Stephen Trathen, Assistant Professor, Industrial Design at the University of Canberra, hope to start an ongoing conversation with the industrial design community that will engage them in a series of symposiums to gain further understanding of the use of carbon fibre today, and its potential for the future.

“It is important for Australia’s place in advanced manufacturing that we can diversify into areas such as carbon fibre and composites and therefore inevitable that high performance composites will increasingly take over traditional materials in design,” says Dr Trathen.  

The university’s experience and knowledge in designing with high performance composites has developed through a range of assignments, including projects to improve athlete safety and performance for the Australian Institute of Sport.

Talon carbon fibre chair

Talon carbon fibre chairs can be seen at The Yahoo Internet Café in Tokyo and Terminal 3 Sydney domestic airport.

“At the University of Canberra we look for design opportunities and we recognise there is a paradigm shift in manufacturing and design practice and education needs to keep pace,” says Trathen.

Extend designers’ palette of materials

“We are saying to the design community, let’s start looking at high performance composites and take a design approach. How is the material being used currently, look at the need and what might be possible – in architecture, sculpture, domestic environments; how design and high performance composites are being used today and how they could be used in new areas such as aging, health and disability to ‘do good’, improve lives.

“The aim is to give current designers an extended palette of materials, but to do this they need an understanding of carbon fibre and composites and they need to understand the processes in manufacturing with these materials,” says Trathen.

Looking to the future, Trathen wants to develop more content on carbon fibre and composites in the university’s undergraduate industrial design course and expand the research focus. Germon added:“It is also important that the composites industry gets closer to the universities and helps shape the course outcomes, so that graduates have useful skills and exposure to what high performance composites are good for in the real world.”