In 2016, Schneider Pen were awarded the title “brand of the century” for their ballpoint pens by the renowned publishing house “Deutsche Standards" which have also presented the award to other German companies like: Haribo, Ritter Sport, Tempo, adidas, BMW. Schneider produces writing instruments and its product range includes ballpoint pens, fountain pens and cartridge rollers, rollerballs and fineliners, markers and highlighters and mechanical pencils, from which some are made from materials which are from 65 to 90 percent bio-based. But that's not all. The German family owned business has been working from renewable energy since 1998 and their packaging is made up from 80 percent recycled paper. Combining both sustainability and efficiency, the ViscoGlide Technology that Schneider have developed provides an extremely easy, gliding write. Keen to find out more, Emily O'Dowd spoke to the company's Technical Director, Patrick Wintermantel who explains some of the biggest challenges working in this industry along with key advice.
Emily O'Dowd (EOD): What first inspired the creation of Schneider Pen?
Patrick Wintermantel (PW): Schneider started to produce the first ballpoint pen refill. With the rise of plastics engineering into the industry, we started to buy plastic moulding machines and in 1957 began the production of complete writing instruments in addition to the traditional processing of metal.
EOD: Why is plastic still so popular?
PG: Plastic is a highly versatile material that lends itself well to creating user-specific solutions. Important aspects of writing instruments are high impermeability and good stability to ensure a long product life, as well as outer surfaces that are pleasant to the touch. Additionally, plastic is a light, cheap material that can be used to make pens that anyone can afford. Mineral oil is a finite resource and frequently subject to speculation and crisis. Moreover, mineral oil production harbors a serious risk to the environment for example through fracking. For our company the primary objective is for bio-based plastics to achieve all the familiar and outstanding characteristics of fossil-fuel plastics, so as to protect our finite resources.
Schneider Pen will be attending our next annual Bio-Based Live conference help in partnership with the University of Amsterdam! 31st May - 1st June.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
PW: The work itself is challenging and motivating, yet it is all still new and many things are still being experimented with. There is much to learn and people working in this field are very passionate about bio-based materials and eager for it to become standard practice. We at Schneider believe that these new sustainable materials might help to improve our lives by saving our resources and our environment. I personally also enjoy that Schneider invests the money because of their profound belief of responsibility to the drive to change something.
As a pioneer for the pen industry it is a special desire to gain the know-how and to push innovative ideas. Using bio-based plastics as a standard for pens is a very motivating challenge and a great innovation. It provides an added value to the pen and that's what gives it character.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
PW: The development of an enduring and temperature resistant bio-based plastic pen itself is a challenge. The technical requirements of our products are very high and it has not been easy to reach the standards using bio-based materials. The surface of our pens needs to be scratch resistant and should not be distorted under any circumstance. The development of bio-based pens has taken a lot of time because of the testing procedures for this new material. We have had to try many different compositions until we reached our technical needs.
Economically it was a challenge as well, because we produce mass products for a price sensitive market. The machines require a higher production cost, and the raw material is still much more expensive than petroleum based plastic. As soon as bio-based plastics are more readily available, things will become a lot easier.
Another big challenge is that we are very interested in obtaining a carbon footprint and getting the agricultural information about the raw material.
Since bio-based plastics are not established as a standard, these certificates are not easily available, nor is a constant availability of the material guaranteed.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
PW: My advice would be that if you want to produce something using bio-based plastics, you should think outside the box. If you already have an existing product made of fossil-based plastics you should try not to replace just the material. We had to produce completely new tools for our machines, because it did not work and led to disappointment. With the so-called drop-in materials it is easier to replace fossil-based plastics, but the new PLA’s are quite challenging when it comes to injection moulding.
Secondly, you really have to be passionate about what you do. While working in the field of bio-based plastics, you need to be exceedingly ambitious as well as staying patient. There will always be hurdles to overcome, and you need to be strong-willed to see things through to the end. In the beginning you cannot be profit oriented as many hidden costs will arise, but we are confident that one day our efforts will pay back.
EOD: What single change would help develop the bio-based/sustainable industry further?
PW: Legislation is definitely something that has to be adapted or updated. Consumers must be informed about the materials and its qualities in products that they use every day to provide a greater public awareness for environmental issues. As soon as this is given, people will be willing to support and spend the money for a future-proof solution.
Public tenders should, for example, equate bio-based material with recycled materials. We also believe that we need a strict guideline of terminologies for this case. The term “bio-based” is very misleading. The prefix, “bio” conveys a wrong picture of the material and many people immediately think of bio-degradable, which is not true in most cases. Unfortunately these words are often misused on purpose in marketing to make the material more attractive for the consumer. An honest and transparent form of communication is needed. Therefore, I believe that strict rules in terminology are necessary.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
PW: We are already using the bio-based plastics that are available today and are helping to develop optimum production processes for them. We work in close coordination with researchers, for instance the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB) of the Hochschule Hannover - University of Applied Sciences and Arts. For further developments and new products we will focus on this new material and check where it is possible to choose the material for our products. We also focus on the whole life cycle of the product and are currently working to optimise infrared sensors in the sorting facilities to detect bio-based plastics.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
PW: Rather than a single product we are following intently on the development of PlantBottle and the investigation of the PEF material. The launch of a CocaCola bottle made of such material would mean a major achievement and a significant market volume.
For more information about Schneider Pen: https://schneiderpen.com/en_uk/
Our last 5 minutes with... Lars Börger, Head of Product Marketing at Neste.
Bio-Based World News will bring this 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: email@example.com
For more stories: