From broken fishing nets to shoes, clothes and even car parts or racing yachts, one man is on a mission to revolutionise the 3D printing industry right here in Cornwall.
Ian Falconer is looking to turn the nets into the raw material that will become fins for surfboards, parts for cars, shoes and even clothes for the fashion industry.
The former Camborne School of Mines student is using his skills and know-how from the mining industry to transform the way fishing fleets in Cornwall dispose of and recycle nets at the end of their useful life by turning them into raw material for the fast-growing 3D printing industry.
The former mining industry expert has created a machine and processes to turn fishing nets into spools of the polymer filaments needed in 3D printers.
3D printing has been around since the mid 1980s but has seen a boom since 2014 when a series of patents fell into the public domain and the technology became cheap and small enough for individuals and companies to use.
Piles of fishing nets which will be turned into plastic filament used in 3D printers (Image: Ian Falconer)
The global 3D printing market is estimated to be worth £25 billion by 2023 as more businesses invest in the tech to speed up product development, create cheap-to-produce prototypes, reduce tooling investment and improve spare part management.
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3D printing has started expanding into new sectors from electronics, biomedical, pharmaceuticals and construction to fashion and sports equipment manufacturing.
Mr Falconer, 44, said his newly set-up company Fishy Filaments, which will recruit five staff when it is fully operational, will tackle the redundant net problem by working with the fishing industry and providing a cost-effective disposal route for as much used plastic as possible.
Ian Falconer, founder of Fishy Filaments which will turn damaged fishing nets into 3D printing plastic raw material
“Fishing nets get damaged and broken and when they reach the end of their life they either end up in landfill or they are recycled 1,000 miles away in Slovenia.” Mr Falconer said. “That makes it a time consuming, expensive and not really environmentally friendly process.”
Mr Falconer, who lives near Falmouth, raised £5,000 on the Newquay-based crowdfunding platform Crowdfunder to fine-tune his machine and research and development processes.
He then raised £200,000 in equity cash from worldwide investors through the Exeter Crowdcube platform to get Fishy Filaments afloat. In fact he was so oversubscribed that he closed the crowdfunding campaign two weeks early.
“This is prevention rather than cure,” Mr Falconer said. “We are working with the fishing industry in Cornwall to get damaged and broken nets off straight off the boats before they end up in landfill or on a lorry travelling across Europe.
“As we’ll soon be based in Newlyn, there will be no extra environmental cost. At the moment there is a significant environmental cost to recycle fishing nets which defeats the object. We want to give these nets a new lease of life by turning them into raw material for the 3D printing industry.”
Fishing nets are being transformed by Fishy Filaments into plastic raw material for the 3D printing industry
At first Mr Falconer will work only with nets which have been ‘harvested’ from fishing boats rather than ghost nets which have ended up in the sea and on beaches.
Mr Falconer, who has worked on North Sea oil rigs and for large international mining and quarry companies before becoming a mining trends analyst in the City and going back to school to learn about environment, energy and pollution policies for mining businesses, said the sand and dirt found on ghost nets would break the machine breaking them down into plastic filaments.
However, as his company starts to grow, he believes there’s scope for different types of nets to be used.
A few examples of 3D printed products made from recycled fishing nets – a surfboard fin, jewellery and furniture
He said: “We aren’t a ‘ghost net’ processor. We will be tacking the net disposal problem by working with the fishing industry and providing a cost effective disposal route for as many of their used plastics as possible.
“We have an on-going R&D (research and development) programme, so as time goes on we should be able to take more and more different sorts of nets from more and more ports.”
The entrepreneur said he brought in some of the mining industry’s processes to the nets-to-3Dprinting business which he believes no-one else has done before.
“We’ve chosen Newlyn as our base so there’s no travelling cost involved to get our nets,” he added. “Work is underway to build the machines and the factory. My aim is to process one tonne of nets this year, seven tonnes next year and 15 tonnes the year after that.
“Newlyn is our reference port and will be our base of operations but waste net disposal is a global issue and we are already fielding enquiries from around the world as to if and when Fishy Filaments can set up overseas.”
A spokesman for Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth and Skills Hub, which helped Fishy Filaments along the way, said: “Matt Borne met with Ian back in June 2016. Matt was impressed with Ian’s business idea and they talked about potential funding options and we signposted Ian to our business support partner Transform.
“They help with businesses with growth and strategy with tailored coaching sessions. We are looking forward to helping Fishy Filaments with a full skills review when his business is up and running.”
Source: Cornwall Live