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PLaY Cups

A 3D printed plastic-clay cup.

Photo of om G
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Idea Summary

Automating 3D printed clay cups would create the design differentiation to warrant higher price and reduce labor, eliminate residue, reduce manufacturing waste, and reduce pollution significantly.

Company / Organization Name (if applicable)


Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

In India today, small clay cups are used in India for a reasonably sized delicious beverage.

Clay cups are brittle in the size-ways that Americans like to drink their hot beverages. Some kind of reinforcement is needed to keep them durable enough for typical use. One could bake the clay cup to make it more rigid, but that interferes with decomposing quickly.

Current paper cups are sprayed with a plastic liner that is considered inert, but the jury is very much out on that one. Clay presents an ideal material.

Manufacturing the clay cup is cost intensive compared to the paper cup (if you are only accounting for finished paper stock) but the story goes deeper. Once you incorporate the harvesting of trees, the bleaching and heat intensive paper making process, then the health costs from partially toxic plastic liner spray and printing inks, the actual total cost is significantly higher than clay.

Labor remains an issue. Making clay cups by hand is not viable in the numbers required daily in most places. That's where 3D printing comes in. For the cost of electricity, raw materials, and some human supervision, you can make many, many differently designed cups for low cost. Miniscule cost when you account for the lack of needing a mold. Any shape can be produced.

 But still higher cost than paper.

So, the premium will be for a -medium use- product. One that can withstand a day at the office and perhaps a refill or two, but is understood to be tossed out whenever one wishes, without fear. The clay can be sterilized for repeat use, which is another benefit. More intricate designs warrant higher cost. Being able to customize one's own shape and design for friends, adds a bit more to the price you can get away with.

Reasonable printers can be had for less than $250 US. That opens up cottage industry printers anywhere. The people printing clay cups could, in about ten minutes, be reconfigured to print plastic, nylon, carbon fiber matrix, metal powder filament, and even wood based materials for anything within the basic envelope. This, of course opens up the whole world of instant manufacturing to whomever is interested in the career of the future.

This solution addresses which of the following:

  • Hot / Cold Fiber Cup
  • All of the Above

How is your concept recoverable?

Clay material decomposes quickly, insulates, can be sterilized if desired, or even reinforced through baking to increase it's breaking strength. There may be formulations that include a biodegradable plastic. I also hoped there would be a way to enzyme treat the clay so that plastic bag debris could be used to provide elasticity to the clay matrix and be decomposed faster than if the bags were left in the ground.

How have you incorporated additional sustainability attributes (beyond recoverability) into your solution?

I eliminate the need for tree harvesting, bleaching of pulp, saw mills, plastic spray liner, health effects from plastics, inks, bleaches, and thermal damage to waterways from paper milling. Clay on the other hand, is easily harvested, infinitely renewable, adaptable and 3D printable. 3D printing as a cottage industry could spread through guaranteed profit products like the cup, than then becomes a value-add as local producers add their ingenuity and creativity to the process.

What regions do you plan to address with your solution (and how will you accomplish this)?

Anyplace with electricity and clay. Some places will have soil composition that isn't as friendly to this purpose. Most regions will have a need for 3D printing that increases steadily from here on out.

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

Young technology entrepreneurs, 3D artists, soil scientists, hobbyists, solar power industry

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Operating Concept / Startup

What are the biggest challenges you are facing today? What are existing gaps in your solution?

Creating the infrastructure for supplying adequate clay mixtures to individual printers, organizing kiln-firing if required, testing the correct matrix for the sizes required in different regions.

Mentorship Needs (please select up to 3)

  • Business Model Development
  • Materials and Technical Development
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Supply Chain
  • Branding / Marketing and Storytelling
  • Growth and Scaling
  • Legal
  • Fundraising / Finance

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

I'm a polyglot. A mixed bag of ambition and abilities that need bigger problems to challenge and inspire mad genius (by which I actually mean divine inspiration arriving through instinct alone).

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?

The Formerly US of A

What is your legal / organizational structure? (if applicable)

none. I don't believe in commerce

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

It will hopefully END the MYTH that paper cups are lined with WAX. It's a heat-meltable very thin film of PLASTIC.

How did you hear about the Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO announcement email

Inspired by (1)

Green cup


Join the conversation:

Photo of Koldun Victor

An ordinary cardboard cup breaks down in the natural environment roughly in a year or thereabout. Approximately how the fallen leaves does, consisting of the same cellulose. In order for the new material for the production of cups to become a cost effective replacement of cardboard, it should decompose order faster, somewhere in a month, maybe two or three. This is at an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (according to NASA). But when we pour water near a boiling point, at a temperature of 95 degrees, into such cup , according to the rule of Svante August Arrhenius, all the chemical processes in it, including the self-decay of complex molecules, respectively, accelerate. The minimum acceleration will be somewhere 250 times, and the maximum will be about 65,000 times. That is, for a disposable cup that has been filled for at least an hour, and this is a real situation somewhere on a picnic, there is all the chances to pour out their content on the table at best , at worst, on himself or his electronic devices. Even if this cup was made a few days before that and was stored in a stock in perfect conditions.
Therefore, the question arises - how do you deal with such issue?

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