17.–23.01.2022 #immcologne

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Print the future

3D printed furniture

What do medical engineers, the aviation industry and hobbyists in their home workshops have in common? They’ve probably all been exploring the possibilities of 3D printing for some time now. The technology that is already benefitting these and numerous other sectors also has great potential for applications in the furniture industry.

3D printed armchair made of recycled plastic by Sculptur and Print Your City

3D printed armchair made of recycled plastic by Sculptur and Print Your City

One technology – countless possibilities

The process of printing a new object layer by layer from a wide variety of materials is called “additive manufacturing” – or, commonly, “3D printing”. In principle, the concept is nothing new. The potential applications of 3D printing have been researched and expanded since the 1980s.

But although the technology’s development is still far from reaching its peak, 3D printing already opens up exciting possibilities. In the beginning, it was only possible to print small rigid objects, but now entire houses or even upholstery can be printed. At this year’s interzum, the leading international fair for the furniture and interior construction industries’ supplying sections, for example, the German company Oechsler presented exciting advances in its bid to print comfortable armchairs.

 Oechsler combines printing technology and comfort

3D printed upholstery is now within reach. From stools to chairs and armchairs, Oechsler combines printing technology and comfort. (Photos: Oechsler)

A lot of progress has also been made with respect to sustainability in recent years. Accurate computer models make it possible to create complex structures that were previously unfeasible using conventional methods, thereby cutting down on material consumption, transportation and energy-hungry manufacturing processes. In addition, it’s also easy to make adjustments in line with individual specifications – a decisive factor when it comes to consumer behaviour.

Bespoke design at the click of a mouse

How often is the purchase of a piece of furniture abandoned because a small customer-specific modification would simply be too complicated and costly, when everything else would actually be perfect? It’s a situation that is probably familiar to most people, but which could soon be a thing of the past. That is because the printing process uses a computer model that can be customised with just a few clicks. Whether it be an adjustment to texture, structure or colour gradients, 3D printing makes it possible to respond to customer wishes very easily and without any significant interference in production processes.

Even in the choice of materials, there is more and more design freedom. Whereas in the past 3D printing was limited to various plastics, metals or concrete, major advancements are now being made in printing with wood. In an ongoing study, researchers at TU Dresden University of Technology and Zwickau University of Applied Sciences have been able to increase the wood content in the material from 40 per cent to 90 per cent. This makes an important step en route to greater sustainability in the furniture industry.

Sustainable 3D printing ideas – it all starts with the material

In an era of the popular Netflix documentary Seaspiracy about protecting the oceans, probably the most interesting concept comes from Sweden. Not only was Sculptur – according to its website – the first company to use robots on a large scale to produce 3D printed products, but the start-up is also innovative in its choice of materials. For example, it makes use of coffee waste from a Swedish coffee producer – or even fishing equipment salvaged from the sea. This ultimately led to the establishment of a separate furniture brand at the beginning of 2021: Reform Design Lab . Sculptur supplies the sustainable materials, Reform Design Lab comes up with the extraordinary design ideas. The collaboration is giving rise to exciting 3D printed furniture such as the Reform Chair .

But biologist Glenn Mattsing and his team at Sculptur are not alone in their approach to recycling. The sustainable Print Your City project prints park benches for Amsterdam’s city centre, each using the equivalent of the annual plastic waste produced by a two-person household. In this way, a total of 50 kilograms of recycled plastic waste is processed per bench for the benefit of the public. For a similar project in Thessaloniki, Print Your City recycled as much as 800 kilograms of plastic to produce a total of ten benches.

Projects of this kind are good examples of how, thanks to creative 3D printing ideas, the furniture industry can function as part of a circular economy and still save on material costs.

“The philosophy behind Sculptur is to combine large-scale 3D printing – the best technology available – with the circular economy. This makes it possible to print sustainable furniture.” – Glenn Mattsing, biologist and CEO of Sculptur

3D printing robot creates a Reform Chair

3D printing and robots may sound futuristic, but they are already a reality. Here, a 3D printing robot creates a Reform Chair. (Photo: Anna Lindblom/Picpeople)

But biologist Glenn Mattsing and his team at Sculptur are not alone in their approach to recycling. The sustainable Print Your City project prints park benches for Amsterdam’s city centre, each using the equivalent of the annual plastic waste produced by a two-person household. In this way, a total of 50 kilograms of recycled plastic waste is processed per bench for the benefit of the public. For a similar project in Thessaloniki, Print Your City recycled as much as 800 kilograms of plastic to produce a total of ten benches.

Projects of this kind are good examples of how, thanks to creative 3D printing ideas, the furniture industry can function as part of a circular economy and still save on material costs.

The philosophy behind Sculptur is to combine large-scale 3D printing – the best technology available – with the circular economy. This makes it possible to print sustainable furniture.

Glenn Mattsing
biologist and CEO of Sculptur

Imagine the ways 3D printing could change society

But that’s not the end of the story where sustainability is concerned. Indeed, if we picture a future where 3D printing is used more widely, the technology could potentially change our consumer behaviour completely. Think about our throwaway society. It’s often only defective low-priced component parts that cause us to throw away products that are otherwise fully functional. According to a forecast by the United Nations University , 57.4 tonnes of electronic waste will be produced worldwide this year.

This huge volume could be drastically reduced through the use of 3D printing technology. The 3D-Druck & Reparatur (3D printing and repair) project, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment until 2019, took precisely this approach and compiled a list of designs for printable spare parts. Computer models for pepper mill knobs or replacement wheels for dishwasher racks are already available for download. Users can also upload their own templates and thus make them available to others. It’s a concept that could also be of interest to furniture manufacturers who want to position themselves as sustainable suppliers.

According to a study by the market research institute OnePoll , there is definite public interest in the technology. Its findings indicate that around 51 per cent of Germans would like to acquire a 3D printer and more than half (59 per cent) would use it to repair appliances and replace small parts.

Exciting developments still to come

Even though the technology is not yet fully mature, there is already enormous potential in 3D printing today – and plenty of scope for creativity for the furniture industry. It’s a trend that is sure to grow in importance in the years ahead.

If you want to know what other exciting trends the world of interior design has in store, you will find more interesting topics and products on ambista, Koelnmesse’s global interiors business network.