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Using ANYTHING to make ANYTHING

Thailand's top innovators offer the world sensational new materials and designs, often using the most amazing components

Published on September 23, 2007



Using ANYTHING to make ANYTHING

Soy ink made by CAS is a worthy alternative to the usual petroleum-based ink.

 It's a common enough sight to see villagers weaving textiles, but several women in northern Lampang province's Koh Kha district - the Daorath handicrafts group - do something extraordinary.

They've incorporated fresh creative techniques into weaving native textiles, mingling lemongrass and cotton fibres to produce a fabric with a herbal scent, for example, or mixing bits of silkworm cocoons with silk, cotton and synthetic fibres for use in interior decor.

The products are drawing orders from designers and manufacturers in Dubai, New York and Copenhagen, who in turn use them in furniture upholstery, bags, drapery and packaging.

The members of Daorath are each pocketing an extra Bt3,000 a year from their endeavours.

The group is a success story in the effort to put Thai materials on the global market, and particularly for Material ConneXion, the database library based in New York with branches in Milan, Cologne and Bangkok.

Daorath's innovative textiles are among the 75 materials produced by 46 Thai suppliers that are included in the database.

Material ConneXion Bangkok is housed at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre on the sixth floor of the Emporium mall. It's currently offering the world some 1,500 materials - natural, polymers, glass and ceramic - and introducing more every month.

"The samples are on display with a brief description in Thai and English," says director Chompoonuj Weerakiti. "Users can search the database to get more comprehensive information and technical specifications. The designers then deal with the manufacturers and distributors directly.

"Suppliers can submit their material for free. It should be an innovative and environmentally friendly semi-finished material ready for industrial production."

Access to the Material ConneXion library is open to the design centre's platinum members, who pay an annual fee of Bt12,000 (Bt3,000 for students). Access to the online library costs Bt8,000.

Chompoonuj acknowledges that the library remains largely unknown, but efforts are being made to change that.

"When we hear about firms that have innovative materials and processes, we call them directly and invite them to visit our library and submit the materials. The problem is they don't know what benefits they'll earn."

The benefit is in getting the word out.

"We have so far about 15,000 members worldwide - designers and manufacturers eagerly searching for new materials."

Material ConneXion has just published a bilingual book called "Discovering Thai Materials", which highlights 35 local materials. Among them are water hyacinth, jute, sisal, vetiver grass, bagasse from sugarcane, lemongrass and banana fibres, all of which can be used in wall and floor covering and furniture.

The latest innovative materials are sound-absorbing polyethylenes, water-repellent polyurethane foam and synthetic textiles that incorporate nanotechnology additives that have anti-bacterial and anti-odour properties.

The book utilises soy ink developed by CAS Ink and Equipment Co, a product that's also kind to the environment.

And the book instantly grabs attention with its covering of plastic printed with 3-D graphics by Visionnex, a brand of new industrial print techniques by Narttawat Thampipit. This too is on the list of innovative products.

Narttawat has lifted silkscreen far beyond the merely decorative. Visionnex materials can be used in interior decor, retail displays, vehicles, jewellery and numerous other applications.

The lowly soybean is highly praised for its nutrition, but few people realise it's been an important industrial-printing material since 1989. Petroleum-based ink contains chemicals that are hazardous to health and emit strong odours, but soy ink doesn't rub off easily, emits no pungent fumes and biodegrades more quickly.

CAS has been promoting its use in textiles, plastics, wood, melamine, foil and food packaging.

Another clever new material, says Chompoonuj, is the ceramic-based sheet made by Cerapaper Co. It's flexible enough to be bent, creased and folded like paper, and then it can be fired into rigidity.

Meanwhile a firm called N Cubed is producing adhesive resin mosaic tiles for interior wall and floor that are lightweight and come in a wide range of textures, from marble and matte to glossy and translucent.

"Thai Ceramic Co is also very active in producing new materials, like glass mosaic titles that incorporate organic plants."

Then there's the canvas made from organic cotton by CVS Co, which supplies material for the shoes and handbags sold by Nike, Converse, Reebok and Lacoste. The firm has its own shop, The Canvas, on Bangkok's Soi Thonglor selling cotton bags, cushions, lamps and accessories.

And full creative credit goes to the designers who turn weeds into valuable materials.

ML Pawinee Santisiri of the company Ayodhya makes furniture and other items of home decor from water hyacinth. Parinda Traevichitsilp of the Golden Vetiver Grass Board Industry can cover any interior surface with such former "discards" as vetiver clippings, rice husks, wood chips and orange skins.

"About 80 per cent of the best Thai materials listed in the library are rooted in the country's natural agricultural wealth," Chompoonuj says. "High technology isn't our strong point because the government doesn't invest a great deal in research and development, but we're rich in natural resources.

"When visitors see the examples of raw materials in our library, a lot of them say they look so easy to make. But the difference is that they have to actually do it. Just do it - and if you think your material is really cool, pick up the phone and call us!"

"Discovering Thai Materials" costs Bt580 in the Thailand Creative and Design Centre's souvenir shop. Call (02) 664 8448 or visit www.tcdc.or.th or MaterialConnexion.com/th.

Khetsirn Pholdhampalit

 The Nation


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