Fishy Blog

We seem to be running parallel to Nike’s R&D (with a lower spend and only a bit behind🤫)

A few weeks ago we showed some R&D that we’ve been doing on digital textiles, commenting about how aniostropy could be designed in or out of the 3D printing process when building flat objects.

FYI – Anisotropy is a measure of uniformity in a structure. Most 3D printing projects and technologies aim to make the mechanical properties of the final printed body uniform, mimicing established manufacturing technologies like injection moulding. That seems like a waste of an opportunity within 3D printing that designers are only now starting to get to grips with.

Well, it seems Nike are a bit further along that track than we knew, with their ‘Flyprint’ professional-level sports shoes. These shoes did the London Marathon with Eliud Kipchoge driving them


This is the first time that conventional ‘uppers’ have been 3D printed for a commercial (albeit bespoke) line of sports shoes. Previous 3D printed sneakers have been soles (Adidas/Carbon) and/or mid-soles/footbeds (Under Armour).

The semi-conventional pattern of the Nike Flyprint upper is built as a flat textile panel from TPU which is 3D printed on what seems to be, again, a fairly conventional Fused Filament-style 3d printer. Conventional textile uppers are cut and sewn by nimble hands.

From the vid the printer is pretty big, dimensionally, but otherwise nothing special. The special thing is the optimisation of where the upper has strength, where it has breathability and where it has flexibility. The structure is deliberately isotropic (has uneven properties). The data on where to put the 3D printed material and where not in order to achieve an optimised performance comes from analysis of the individual runner’s anatomy and running dynamics. That is Nike’s special sauce.

At $600 per pair they aren’t cheap and right now they are only being produced for Nike sponsored professional atheletes, but this is scalable technology. And this is a market that Fishy Filament’s recycled nylon material can service with the right partner.

Nike Flyprint

Nike Flyprint close-up

Nike Flyprint toe

We’re growing !

First hire, production units and equipment commissioned, sales enquiries coming in for our 100% recycled nylon

Some recent progress to report;

  • A significant grant win that should cover ~45% of the capital expenditure
  • First hire made and interviews conducted for second hire
  • Production units commissioned from Iso Spaces
  • Production equipment on order
  • Demo pieces delivered for display in New York
  • Sales enquiries now coming in regularly
  • E-commerce website under construction
  • Further technical advances made on the product and recycling process has allowed multiple blends to be successfully tested (Porthcurno, Longships and possibly a 3rd as yet un-named blend)
  • Independent test results now received and strongly suggest that the Longships blend will pass the safety requirements necessary for use as ‘packaging’. The ‘packaging’ use class includes some food contact applications.
Translucent base of Pineapple vase 0.3mm thick
Translucent base 0.3mm thick



Prepping for some long-lived demo pieces

We’re prepping some 3D printed demo pieces for a long-lived display in NYC. Initial result looking good

Ever been asked what item of yours that you’d want to put in a time capsule ?

Its a tricky one. That item will be everything that a 3rd party who sees that time capsule will have upon which to base an opinion of you, your impact and relevance to their lives at some remote point in space and time.

Do you put an idealised version of yourself, a ‘warts & all’ version of yourself or do you just busk it and see what happens ?

Fishy Filaments has been asked to place some demo pieces in a well known organisation based in New York City. While we will have the ability to replace them at some point in the future, those items will be viewed by opinion formers and decision-makers in coming months (and potentially years), so we’ve been working to try and deliver a polished but realistic representation of the state of the art.

Here are some of the test results.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Exploring the MasterSpool concept

When starting a new 3D printing filament company with an ethos of sustainability at its core, we should consider all aspects of design, including packaging and distribution.

Those following @fishyfilaments on Twitter will have seen that we are exploring the Open Source concept, designed by @RichRap3D, called MasterSpool.

Why ?

The 3D printing filament market has reached a situation whereby each new length of material is bought on a new spool. Typically these spools are designed by the filament maker to meet their own criteria, fit their own design ethic and their own economic model. The dimensions of the spools are defined by the mechanical qualities of the filament, so they are all roughly the same size and shape, except for those suppliers that choose to distribute in different weights.

A typical few weeks worth of empty spools for a part-time printer

A new plastic spool made to carry 1kg of filament will weigh somewhere around 250g, and could be as high as 350g.

The polymers that they are made of don’t seem to be driven by anything except price-performance, so in the picture shown above there are spools made of polycarbonate (clear), polystyrene (non-expanded, black left), PLA (grey) and unmarked (black, top).

Some filament makers (ProtoPasta, Filamentive, Re-Filament) use cardboard spools which tend to be lighter, but afford slightly less support when the filament is loaded into the printer or filament caddy.

So what are the variables in play when a filament maker (like ourselves) decides how it will distribute its filament ?

Cost of production is key, we are businesses after all, but don’t just think about the cost to buy each spool.

You also need to include consideration of

  • the reliability of the spooling method
  • the amount of reject material and repuational damage due to packaging failures
  • the time taken to package/spool or re-package/re-spool
  • the technological compatibility of the spool with production machinery (higher volume production kit spins quicker and needs more robust spools)
  • the technological compatibility of the spool with printers – some printers and caddies use a spool rolling on its edge rather than hanging from its central hole, so you loose those customers if your spool can’t roll
  • the space available to store any packaging ready for production (warehousing has a cost attached)
  • the speed of re-supply – custom designs are less available than standard/Open Source designs
  • the cost/benefit of scaling (cardboard spools get cheaper quicker than plastic spools).

Next comes weight and cost to distribute.

Obviously the lighter the better, but postage cost rises in weight bands so, for example, there isn’t as much benefit in taking a whole package weight down from 1.3kg to 1.2kg as there is from 1.0kg to 0.9kg. Most filament distributors will pass postage cost on to the customer, so the filament maker can choose to structure their product so as to benefit the customer or not.

Hint – Look for producers advertising 850g spools, or smaller. They are the ones thinking about their customer’s wallets as well as their own. If you need the full kilo (or 2kg or 4kg) for a single job you won’t mind the extra postage, but most 3D printer users won’t need that amount of material on one spool.

Moisture protection, in the form of desiccant packs loaded within a vacuum pack surrounding the spool, has become normal practice. The VacPack is a must but the desiccant seems often to be included for no other reason than other manufacturers are including it. Not all 3D printing polymers suffer from moisture absorbtion, and few are sensitive enough to degrade during transportation, especially if vacuum packed dry.

After that its all aesthetics, and by aesthetics I mean non-technical, non-economic choices. Specifics like company ethos and marketing take over once the technical performance has been satisfied within the available price band.

To give ourselves as an example;

In our pre-production phase we costed an all-carboard spool with a resealable bio-degradable vacuum pack sent out in a protective cardboard box. It was the best option that was available and that fitted in with the company ethos of thinking through the whole lifecycle of our product and processes. The spool & box could be composted or recycled in most locations and the bag was an unavoidable necessity because filament storage solutions weren’t affordable off-the-shelf.

We carried out a technical evaluation of several desiccant solutions and concluded that for our core product, recycled nylon, a moisture sensitive material, you’d need such a large desiccant pack to provide any real protection that its is actually better not include one. This will certainly put some potential customers off, but by putting the filament user in control of the material and its life-cycle we hope to encourage them to engage more closely with the filament, and through that engagement get better end results. Because we know that nylon is sensitive to moisture we believe that our job is to get the filament to the customer quickly and ready for preparation to use in its local context, not to provide a warehousing solution suggesting the potential for an infinite storage time.

(We will explore how to prepare the filament for use and keep it usable in a later post).

So we believed that we had minimised the environmental impact of our packaging as much as we could within our cost bracket, but of course we always have open minds about improving our solution.

Enter – The MasterSpool by @RichRap3D

The idea behind the MasterSpool is that the filament travels but the spool doesn’t.

The customer has a 3D printer so is able to produce their own spool to a common set of dimensions or from shared design files. That spool can be split and reloaded repeatedly instead of being disposed of.

It saves production costs, transport costs and environmental overheads associated with the production and disposal of 250-350g of plastic for each kg of filament used.

You need to add 3 reusable zip ties for transportation and storage, but the benefits are clear.

The design needs a little refinement from the producer’s perspective, but as a concept its going to save customer’s on postage and producer’s costs too, and should help increase the sustainability of 3D printing.

Great job @RichRap3D !


Supplemental – I’ve been testing vacuum packing more rigorously and have the following findings;

Removal of the spool from the vacpack obviously decreases the amount of void space left in the package. This means less air and less moisture in that air, decreasing the perceived need for silica gel or other dessicants. I’ve discussed the effectiveness of those dessicant packs (or not), but maybe this is a good way to consign them to the past ? They are dead weight.

A second finding is that the unsupported gaps that the vacuum pouch needs to bridge as the air is removed are also removed. That doesn’t sound much but the vacuum pouches are put under stress every time they have to bridge a gap unsupported. The smaller the gap, the thinner the material needed to withstand the vacuum.

The end result is that by using MasterSpool we can reduce the amount of vacuum pack material by 1/3. Again this is dead weight removed from the packaging but, probably more importantly, this is unrecyclable material in most parts of the world. Reducing or removing its use can only be a good thing.

So two good second order benefits that help both end of the supply chain; less weight in transit, less material use, less waste at the end of things.

Is the tide turning on plastics recycling ?

There are two strands to this question; public opinion and technological application.

In recent weeks we’ve seen a massive and welcome shift in UK public opinion, to the point where we now see ministers toting their reusable coffee cups to cabinet with pride, but there is far less evidence of a shift in public opinion outside the UK. Yes, there are a few well publicised remedial actions overseas, an Indian beach here and a Polynesian island there, but the scale of those interventions are vanishingly small when compared with political actions such as the Chinese ban on the import of mixed wastes of all sorts, including plastics.

So is there actually a sea change in policy ?

To me the EU’s publication of a plastics strategy seems little more than an early implementation of its existing Circular Economy Package (CEP), currently wending its way through the corridors of continental power. Its not a bad thing that some acceleration and a bit of cash (~€350m) has been brought to the table early, but when compared to the estimated economic incentives proposed to be included in the CEP as a whole (~€150bn) the recently announced Plastics Strategy is a drop in the proverbial ocean.

Having investigated ways to gain access to the funds associated with this strategy and actually start to roll-out change at scale, the barriers to getting hands-on with helpful cash are ridiculously high. The minimum project value that we’ve found is £50,000, which means that a start-up would need to have that cash in the bank, spend it on R&D and then wait for many months to get maybe 60% of it back. So the EU is talking a good talk, but definitely favouring the big established players and those with vested interests in the status quo. The status quo being not recycling plastics, as I will go into in a bit more detail below.

In the last few days there has been a BREXIT-tinged argument over dates, 2030 for the EU vs 2042 for the UK, comparing vacuum-packed apples to cling-filmed oranges, but the ultimate end-date for the production of non-biodegradable plastics isn’t the biggest problem today. That’s an issue for the big petrochemical companies and their multi-billion dollar plants, the infrastructure that they depend on and the long term resource use profiles that we need to put in place to make sure that we have a sustainable economy in the longer, multi-decadal term. As a nation that imports most of its raw plastics, the UK will inevitably be ‘downstream’ of any systemic change.

So I contend that the current slew of policy announcements are strongly biased towards technological-economic issues around large-scale plastics production systems not immediate social or environmental issues that are apparent at the disposal/recycling end of the system. Moreover they really don’t address the Circular Economy in any meaningful way.

Today we have an immediate issue to solve. There are millions of tonnes of all sorts of plastics going to landfill or being indiscriminately dumped right now. It is a global issue but I’ll give a local example.

We’ve already started to run out of holes in the ground in South West England. Cornwall has already shuttered its last trade waste landfill and its last landfill for domestic residual waste will have closed permanently by December 31st this year.

We’ve known that this day has been coming for almost a decade but here in Cornwall we still only have a domestic recycling rate around 30% by weight.

There are a few local wrinkles and special challenges. Recycling rate varies with town and through time. In the summer, when holiday-makers boost the local population and economy, recycling rates drop more in the areas with more visitors. This rate of change issue is a statistical inevitability not a comment on litterbuggery, but even so local services are stretched every Summer to keep up with public waste collections.

So it is a bigger geographic challenge to structure a sustainable recycling business for Cornwall’s dynamic and highly distributed rural population of around 300k than it would be if the same population were gathered together in a city. Cities the size of Sunderland or Newcastle Upon Tyne, whose populations vary more with home football fixtures than Bank Holiday weather, have both population density and stability on their side where it comes to waste management (and enforcement).

With no landfill remaining, the solution implemented in The Duchy is a combined Energy-from-Waste & export of waste for landfill/recycling. However where an urban E-f-W plant might have a recycling line in front of the energy recovery plant, Cornwall (myself included) doesn’t attempt to minimise incineration and simply burns all domestic municipal waste that isn’t separated by householders. The materials placed in recycling bins and boxes around the county go for mass recycling at a location unknown and no trade waste is taken by the E-f-W plant.

Cornwall is not unusual in this kind of structure. The government (both UK & EU) has set up a market place that has promoted the use of E-f-W over increased R&D on recycling backed by legislation on difficult to recycle plastics, such as mixed plastic packaging. And despite the good words in the CEP, E-f-W is still badged as recycling and incentivised as as such. This policy has led us to the point where many professionals in the waste business see a looming overcapacity of UK and EU-based E-f-W, reflecting the situation in some Nordic countries where municipal waste is imported from overseas to burn. In effect we have a market place that is set up to increase the value of wastes for burning through competition for a resource that should be shrinking, rather than a combined policy aimed at minimising the volume of wastes in the first place.

Until we see a separation of E-f-W from materials recycling in macro-policy, both in the UK and the EU, we will see perverse incentives for many years to come. Cornwall’s E-f-W plant has a 25 year life and was kicked into life last year, so it will take an act of supreme political will for any change of direction here before 2042 which, co-incidentally, is the same timescale that the UK government has set for the eradication the use of avoidable plastics.

So for now I believe that people power is the more likely route to achieve results (outside of China) whether that power is expressed through successful grassroots campaigns like those of Surfers Against Sewerage and 2MinuteBeachClean, mass media campaigns like Sky News’ Ocean Rescue or fully commercial solutions like our own.

Fishy Filaments is not a campaigning organisation. Instead the core idea is that we can fundamentally revalue used plastics through the application of technology and know-how. As an engineer I believe that good words are good but practical solutions are better, so this year (the UK Year of Engineering) I will leave the campaigning to those who are better at it and crack on with getting down and dirty with as many used fishing nets as I can get my hands on.

I remain skeptical of any substantial change in policy across Europe. And perversely that €150bn pot of R&D cash included in the Circular Economy Package may actually slow change down because it is only really accessible by the encumbents. Disruptors do not seem welcome.

To end on a positive note though; one really good piece of recent news is that the UK will be directing some of its Overseas Aid budget specifically towards prevention of plastic pollution. There are some relatively easy wins possible around the world through better drinking water provision, stronger waste management and the development of local recycling industries. We know the solutions already, so its really time to just crack on with those things helping make life cleaner, healthier and better for rapidly growing urban populations around the world, with the by-product being less plastic pollution.



Cornwall Sustainability Awards 2017 – Winners of Best Innovator

Last night Fishy Filaments won the in the category ‘Tomorrow’s Contribution to Sustainability – The Greatest Potential Contribution to our Tomorrow’, otherwise known as Best Innovator, sponsored by Transform for High Growth/Oxford Innovation.

Judges from the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Environment Agency, Cornwall & Isels of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Cornwall Local Nature Partnership, Cornwall & Isles od Scily Growth Hub and two independent consultants unanimously chose Fishy Filaments as the best innovation from this year’s field.

Many thanks to the judges and the other finalists in all categories. Cornish ingenuity, imagination and engineering were all on show last night and rightly celebrated.

CS Award 2017 1 mres

The award was designed and made by Tom Raffield, and with a poem in Cornish & English by Beth Breedon.