Design Engineering
Showcase 2021



Project Details

Judith Weill
Dr Weston Baxter
Lead for Operations
Retail and Consumer Goods

Refrain is a start-up dedicated to creating zero-waste skincare. They fill their innovative packaging with London-based sustainable products, deliver them and get the empty jars back in exchange for a deposit refund. The empties are then cleaned and ready to be reused. The start-up was founded in 2018 and is set to launch in spring 2022.

Doing a placement at Refrain was unique opportunity to deepen my interest in sustainability, and gave me insights on working in a start-up. As the Lead for Operations, I created an internal management system to help Refrain getting ready for the launch.


Demonstration of Design Engineering Thinking and Skills

I started by collaborating on a user journey map, which involved familiarizing myself with the company system and values. It also improved my knowledge of user-centred design and behaviour change.

I worked on building an impact calculator for the consumer to understand the positive impact they are having when choosing Refrain. This involved learning how to make a Life Cycle Analysis and understand every step of manufacturing and use. I also organised and optimized operations. I had to test every machine that will be used and create a protocol that implemented the Good Manufacturing Practices.

The placement taught me many transferable skills, in particular how to use technical knowledge in a less technical field. I had to communicate my progress with someone that had no previous knowledge of design engineering.

As Refrain is approaching its launch date, I discovered the effervescence of finishing everything that was needed before starting to sell the product. Being in such a small team allowed me to learn about every aspect of the company, from the prototyping to the shareholders. Even if I wasn’t personally working on the prototypes, seeing the iterative process was a learning experience.

The Refrain circular system

Role and Contributions

During the first part of my internship, I worked with another intern to create an extensive user journey map. We enumerated all the needs of the customers throughout the Refrain experience, and brainstormed ideas to take care of each of them.

The second part of my internship was about the backend operations. As the Lead for Operation, I developed an internal management system. It will be used to track packaging across its life, as well as internal operations (such as batches, tasks, or expiry dates).

I created user friendly forms to fill while preparing the jars (inspecting quality, cleaning, printing, sterilizing, filling, delivering, receiving empties). These protocols were designed to follow the Good Manufacturing Practices, as required by law. Creating the protocols also involved optimizing the order of operations. I tested out each machine that will be used to clean, sterilize, print and fill to understand how long each operation would take, and optimize the process.

I also worked on the impact tracker; a tool that will be displayed on the website to help the customer visualize the positive impact they are making. I created a database to calculate and record the quantity of plastic that would have been wasted if the customer had bought a product in a regular packaging.

I am looking forward to the launching date to see my work in action.


Working with a start up that shared my values (sustainability and transparency) was great. Being in such a small team gives you the freedom to work on what interests you the most and ensures that you will make an impact to the final product.

-Be curious and pro-active: ask questions, give your own fresh perspective, talk to people whose work interest you.

-Make sure you make the most out of your placement and are always learning.