Camilla’s quest for future materials

What materials will we use in our future homes? Can we ask a doormat to communicate? We talked to Camilla about technical breakthroughs, why collaboration is the only way, and what role spruce and pine play in her life.

Camilla spent a lot of time in the forest when she grew up. Her parents took over her grandparents’ forest in the south of Sweden and she learned early about spruce, pines and cultivating trees during the many walks in the woods with her father. Little did she know then that the green and the trees would be a common thread as an adult. When she later decided to move to Gothenburg to study chemistry, she didn’t leave the forest behind.

“The forest industry is like a complete chemistry factory. You have organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering—you find pretty much everything there!” says Camilla.

After several years in the forestry industry working with better ways to use wood materials, and with a doctoral degree in wood chemistry and cellulose technology, she joined IKEA. Today Camilla leads the work of developing new materials, and she always tries to see the whole picture—to connect technology to the business and the people.

“I like when it all comes together, even if we are only a piece of a big puzzle. When we develop our future materials we do it together with development suppliers, research institutes, start-ups and even competitors. We always do it through IKEAs five dimensions of Democratic Design, where we combine form, function, quality and sustainability at a low price.”

One example is board-on-frame technology in which stable and lightweight products are made by sandwiching recycled, honeycombed paper between thin HDF (high density fiber) boards mounted on a frame. Camilla highlights the development of a new type of HDF board as an example of experienced IKEA specialists working together with other industries.

“One challenge with the HDF board was that we were forced to work with it in big sheets. One major breakthrough came when we combined our competence with that of the paper industry and together developed a method to roll the fiberboard. This way we have been able to construct a factory one-sixth the length.”

This new board generation is called D-Alpha board, and will now be used for the storage system PLATSA.

”This is a good example of how IKEA has been working for a very long time. Every time we introduce a new board material, the customers notice that the product is easier to carry and that they get better function at a lower price. Behind every improvement is a technical breakthroughs like the new generation of board material,” says Camilla.

Camilla started with wood, but today she is equally passionate about her work that also includes textiles, plastics and metal. By 2030 IKEA has committed to become climate positive, and only use renewable and recycled materials. This is of course a challenge but Camilla also sees it as a fantastic opportunity. So what does Camilla think will be the key for sustainable materials at affordable prices?

“To combine development of recycled and renewable materials together with process and production technology along with the usage of less material, and also the right material for the right application in product development.”

What materials does Camilla think we will use in our future homes? How will the material be used for our furniture change? She predicts that we will play even greater demands on our products, which means a greater demand on the materials. 

“We want to interact with our home in another way than we do today, and the materials we use will work as information carriers,” says Camilla.

She uses her own family to describe what she means.

“What do I want my doormat to do? When I step on it I might want it to send information to my son that I am home? Or imagine a rug. It provides both comfort, protects the floor and is beautiful. But what if you want the rug to radiate warmth during wintertime, or change its pattern in the evening? It can also be about security. What if a rug in my elderly mother’s home can send me a signal that she is up and walking?”

The development of materials as information carrier goes hand in hand with renewable and recycled materials. Camilla is sure that we all will be even more aware of what kind of material we use in the future and at the same time put more demands.

“This is the great challenge that we take on together, developing sustainable materials with better form, function and quality at an affordable price.”

What material issues do you wish more people were aware of?

”It is easy to put the responsibility with the customer, but it is not always easy for the customers to drive change. We at IKEA have a great responsibility here, to listen in what the customers’ needs and balance that with what we in IKEA stand for so that people can have trust in us,” says Camilla.

Five facts about Camilla:

Role at IKEA: Material & Innovation Development Manager at IKEA.

Favourite podcast: “Innovation”, by the Swedish government’s innovation agency Vinnova.

Reading right now: “The Urban Beekeeper” by Steve Benbow.

Wish I did better: Running!

Favourite spot at home: Our kitchen.