Thermoformed TPO provides better shelters for refugees

  • Shelter made from thermoformed sheets of expanded TPO
  • House fitted with solar power unit, and USB port
  • Safeman and Cannon cooperate

The IKEA Foundation is developing and testing, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Better Shelter, a better home for refugee families. Cannon provided the Swedish thermoformers Safeman the equipment required to produce the plastic modular shelter.

Commonly used shelters have life span of less than 6 months

Many of the textile or plastic shelters currently used in refugee camps often have a life span of as little as six months before the impact of sun, rain and wind calls for their replacement. Unfortunately, refugees can stay in camps for several years. Not only does this leave vulnerable families even more exposed to the challenges of life in a refugee camp, but it also presents a huge burden to the aid agencies and governments trying to create a more dignified life for the millions of people who have had to flee their own homes. Thanks to the IKEA Foundation’s focus on funding innovative projects and developing connections between its partners, that could be set to change.


The assembly plan for the new shelter, utilising typical IKEA packing concept. (source: IKEA Foundation)

Shelter made from thermoformed sheets of expanded TPO

The houses are designed to be easily set up and taken apart and are also easy to carry. A tubular steel structure, similar to that used for camping tents, supports modular panelling elements for the roof and the walls: these panels, made by thermoforming rectangular sheets of expanded TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin), are characterised by very good resistance to UVs and rain. These lightweight panels are fixed one another through simple plastic buttons and, when installed, they guarantee a certain degree of thermal insulation, a complete tightness to light, wind and rain, while preserving “optically” the privacy of the family living in the shelter, a defect much criticised of the textile tents widely used as shelter until now.

House fitted with solar power unit and USB port

Each house is fitted with a flexible type of solar power unit, which is sufficient to power one lamp, that comes with the house, and a USB port. The USB option may look odd, but it shows the high conceptual level behind the project: the refugees – right now, 3.5 million of them live in UN-provided tents – not only demand comfort, security and dignity, but also need a way to communicate with the rest of the world, and their mobile phones, tablets and computers plug into the same four-pin ports that we all use. The prototypes of the shelter have been tested in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Iraq and the families who live in the shelter have had a direct say in how the product is developed, contributing with their experience to this collaborative process.


Cannon provided to the Swedish thermoformers Safeman a fully-automatic thermoforming plant composed by two presses and four loading-unloading robots, able to produce 30,000 shelters/year (Source: Cannon)

Safeman and Cannon cooperate

The project started in 2008 and required a number of refinements prior to the definition of the ideal shelter. When the decision was made to use thermoformed plastic walls and roof, Nortec-Cannon AS, the Cannon agency in Europe’s Northern countries, was consulted by the Swedish company Safeman for the supply of a proper industrial solution able to provide the high number of parts in a rational and fast way. Cannon Ergos was involved with this request and responded conceiving, testing and proposing a complete production solution, while offering their laboratory facilities to supply the desired prototypes for the field tests. The suggested thermoforming solution aimed to produce a totally trim-less panel: no peripheral scrap is generated in this project, contributing to the environment friendliness of the process. The plant, supplied in the first quarter of 2015, includes the wholly automatic equipment to thermoform the panels, from the loading bays to the unloading station, capable of producing 1,000,000 components/year.

Main picture: The IKEA Foundation is developing and testing a better home for refugee families, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Better Shelter (source: IKEA Foundation)


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