ModSharp

To reduce the ecological footprint of Swiss pencils, Caran d’Ache and BFH are looking for an alternative local wood which – combined with a modification process – meets the requirements for producing premium-quality pencils.

Factsheet

Situation

Growing awareness of climate change has driven citizens, companies and governments to implement targeted measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This also includes Caran d’Ache, Switzerland’s only pencil manufacturer, which aims to provide customers with products that have low environmental footprints while maintaining the values of innovation and premium quality for which it is renowned. While the company has already taken various steps in this direction, the transport of the wood used to make the pencils still has a major environmental impact. It uses Californian cedar to make its pencils which has been the preferred choice of wood for making high-quality pencils for over a century. The wood is harvested in California and shipped abroad to be turned into sheets before arriving in Switzerland. This Innosuisse project was launched in 2019 to overcome the challenges faced by adopting a systematic and scientific approach. The project activities involve finding one or more local wood types which – combined with a modification process – provide cutting performance equivalent to that of Caran d’Ache’s current standard pencils. Six European wood types have been evaluated as part of this project: silver fir, spruce, stone pine, Weymouth pine, Scots pine and linden.

Aus einheimischem Holz werden hochwertige Farbstifte gefertigt.
Aus einheimischem Holz werden hochwertige Farbstifte gefertigt.

Course of action

The project consists of four main elements – called work units – which aim to achieve the ultimate goal of replacing Californian cedar with a local wood for the manufacture of high-quality pencils. WU 1: Analysis of the anatomical characteristics of the wood types evaluated that influence the cutting and production of pencils and comparison of their properties with Californian cedar. WU2: Design and development of a test rig and validation of a method for the characterisation of the cutting forces required to make pencils, enabling comparison of pencils made of different woods and the effects of wood modification on the cutting of pencils. WU3: Development of modification processes for the wood types offering significant potential for achieving the characteristics required after modification. Optimisation of the process for one or more selected wood types. WU4: Evaluation of the performance of the modified wood for the cutting and production of pencils taking account of aspects such as the time of cutting, the features of the treated sheets, the uniformity of the treatment, adhesive performance, the finish and humidity resistance.

Result

After analysing the anatomy of the various wood types, the key characteristics were identified. Californian cedar provides a special combination of these characteristics not found in any other species. The development of the test rig for cutting the pencils and the validation of the methodology have been completed, enabling the pencils made from various wood varieties to be analysed and the impact of the wood treatment on cutting to be evaluated. Various tests on wood treatment, such as impregnation using a wax solution, have revealed that good sharpening properties can be achieved with some local woods by modifying the material.

Looking ahead

Process adjustment, qualitative sorting and the evaluation of the performance of the wood types in other aspects of pencil production are the next stages in finding a viable alternative to replace Californian cedar in the pencil industry. The major challenges remain the uniformity of treatment, the supply of a premium-quality material, the re-establishment of the production chain and the treatment of wood sheets for pencils in Switzerland, which requires highly specific expertise and great precision. This means partnerships with local companies specialised in the transformation and treatment of wood will be crucial.

This project contributes to the following SDGs

  • 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • 13: Climate action