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The Future Of Chairs: 3D Printed Furniture

Posted by
on April 02, 2018 at 05:31 PM

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The future of design and production has more or less been hijacked by 3D printing technology. This method of additive manufacturing (as it is also called) is proving to be so hugely advantageous on so many counts that it is getting adapted into a variety of industries ranging from construction and rocket building to food and confectionary. There is little to be imagined  about the extent of the impact of 3D printing is likely to have on the design industry, with inroads made in the realm of furniture design already altering the visuals of the shape of things to come. Interestingly, it is the chair, the seat that has caught the initial focus of 3D printing trials with many designs and prototypes already produced, making it the crystal ball that shows how the future is going to look.

3D printing, as a process, basically involves designing a model on a CAD software and then dividing it into numerous horizontal layers (slicing) that are fed to a programmed printer which, when loaded with the required material, can proceed to ‘print’ out layer after layer of the materials as per the design until the model/ product has been completely erected. Since this process is additive, speedy, localised and involves very few stages of production, it proves to be less resource intensive and generates almost no waste. There remain, of course, a few final hurdles like scalability of process to volumes required and reduction in costs of the predominantly metal and plastic raw materials used in additive manufacturing to be overcome. Once these are surmounted, as appears likely in the next half decade, it becomes a far more sensible and attractive choice in the resource-constrained, ecologically threatened future we are heading towards.

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Lillian Van Daal of The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art created a soft seat printed out of a single material using biomimicry to model the strength and suppleness as required of different parts based on a study of plant tissues. Varying the density of the same material used in different parts of the chair created soft cushion for seating as well as strong legs in a joint-free monolith, doing away with the number of materials required for traditional assembly, their joinery which made it difficult to recycle them and a lot of pre-production and post-use waste.

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The process also lends itself easily to infinite customisation, where a single basic model can be effortlessly fine-tuned to individualised tastes and requirements. 3D printing also allows innumerable prototypes to be created by making instantaneous revisions possible and even radical experimentation feasible.

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Dirk Van Der Kooij’s ‘Chubby’ is a chair prototype that takes just one hour to print thanks to being made from a single thick continuous coil of material without being layered or sliced, and is very easily revisable and customisable for the same reason. It leads to being dubbed an endless design, just like his ‘Endless Chair’ which is speedily 3D printed by a robot using a single long yarn made from discarded refrigerators into an ergonomic and aesthetic piece which can be customised and revised, and the material can be 100% recycled in the afterlife. This, indeed, creates the hope to be able to utilise the beauty of materials like plastic, nylon and PVC without having to worry about their ecologically safe disposal.

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The Spanish design company ‘Nagami’ displays some futuristic chairs at the Milan Design Week 2018 which include ‘Bow’ and ‘Rise’ created in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects, who have put in a lot of 3d printing research in terms of experiments with materials and processes. The outstanding designs are clearly based on bio-mimicry and have been machine optimised, in that they are printed with a pellet extruder that uses plastic pellets instead of yarn and are completely biodegradable.

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3D printing enables what has come to be called ‘light-weighting’ – the ability to do away with unnecessary material from spots that don’t require the density to make the product lightweight. Zaha Hadid had herself designed an earlier extremely light weight 3D printed chair during 2014 – 2016 employing loading studies of a seated person to generate a structure of material densities that vary throughout the piece according to strengths required.

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‘Light-weighting’ has, in fact, been the most remarkable feature used in the design of Swedish design major IKEA’s PS 2017 arm chair – one of the pioneering mass production ventures in 3D printing. IKEA used the technology of digital knitting, used formerly in NIKE’s trainers and other designers’ hammocks and loungers, which knits yarn digitally into complex but airy and lightweight meshes in desired shapes, to create a stretchy backed light arm chair in different colours.

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The example of 3D printed chairs using wood comes through as a pleasant surprise in the colourful, convoluted and sleek ‘Double Position Chair’ designed by Alex Petunin and manufactured by ArchTech. This chair can alternate functionally between serving as an armchair, lounger or rocking chair!

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Finally, a method has been researched in 2016 by MIT in collaboration with furniture company Steelcase which enables printing of furniture within minutes! Yes. Often, the trouble with the slicing method is the weakening of constituent layers over time and with extrusion, the material’s setting time to solidify creates hurdles. With an aim to enable producing furniture within minutes, a printing method called Rapid Liquid Printing was devised where the robotic arm releases the extruded material by drawing in 3 dimension inside a tank of gel which, by instantly cooling/ setting it, keeps it in place without the need of a supporting base.

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As such, 3D printing has caught the fancy of the furniture industry prompting extensive research, experimentation and prototyping, and has also made a beginning in mass producing. It may well be just a matter of time before 3D printed furniture floods the décor market.

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