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

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.

Thanks to the IKEA Foundation’s focus on funding innovative projects and developing connections between its partners, that could be set to change.

Collaborating for the benefit of refugees
The IKEA Foundation provides to this project funding and management support, UNHCR brings the know-how and field experience, while Better Shelter —a social enterprise —develops the prototypes and specifications for houses that are put up in modules and can be delivered in flat packs, a well-known IKEA concept that simplifies transport.

A smart, portable shelter
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 an excellent 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.
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.

The project, started in 2008, 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.
Safeman manufactures everything from custom parts to high-volume units and assembled products for the industrial sector, offering to their customers a total concept, from initial idea to finished product. They design and manufacture products and details in materials such as plastic, textile, foil, leather and metal, and were involved since the beginning in the development of this innovative shelter.
Cannon Ergos was involved with this request and responded designing 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 economy and the environment friendliness of the process.

A dedicated, environment-friend solution
The plant, supplied by Cannon Ergos, includes:
two forming presses to shape five different types of panels served by four handling robots
three presses to punch the holes for the connecting buttons
five thermoforming moulds
• the heating stations for the plastic sheets
• the complete engineering of the plant
two prototyping moulds and all the relevant production of prototypes
When fully operative, this plant will be able to produce panels for about 30,000 shelters/year.

“This is a clear example of how we use design and the design process to create benefits based on the user’s needs,” explains Anders Rexare Thulin, Chief Executive of Better Shelter “We create added value for every euro with houses that are cheap and durable.”
Cannon is glad of having contributed to this project: with the supply of a complete solution —from the technological concept to the production plant, including tooling and prototyping service —Cannon Ergos confirmed once more their mission of One-Stop-Shop supplier of complex moulding plants.
We thank IKEA Foundation ( for parts of the article and for the shelters pictures!

Four hours are needed to mount a complete shelter.

The prototyping of parts was done in Cannon Ergos, producing more than 1,000 thermoformed wall and roof panels in expanded TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin).

The assembly plan for the new shelter, utilising typical IKEA packing concept.

A partial view of the thermoforming plant, during construction in Cannon Ergos