3D printing started out as a relatively limited technique used primarily for creating prototypes and components. But thanks to extensive improvements in the size, speed, and quality of 3D printing equipment, industries like furniture manufacturing are finding new and exciting uses for 3D printing.
You may not think of 3D printing as a method for creating comfortable soft furnishings, but the frames, legs, trim pieces, and other accessories can be manufactured this way.
3D printing subcontractors should take note of these exciting 3D printing developments in the furniture industry so they can prepare to meet rising demand from this particular industrial sector.
Large scale 3D printing for products like complete pieces of furniture or surfaces and parts has always been limited. However, a recent partnership between Steelcase and MIT has resulted in the creation of a 3D printing breakthrough that relies on a gel medium to support products as the printing process is completed. This reduces the need for support pieces and results in a finished piece that needs no further finishing or alteration.
3D printing materials also tend to require exposure to either high temperatures or direct light to cure. The rapid liquid 3D printing technique creates its own chemical curing reaction so it begins to cure immediately after being exuded while still supported by the gel surrounding it. These kinds of 3D printing breakthroughs greatly expand the opportunities for 3D printing entire pieces of furniture at once and allowing customers to customize the designs to their needs.
While many of the advancements in 3D printing for furniture industry are driven by private consumer demand, other projects are aimed at improving the public environment instead. A design studio based in Rotterdam is aiming to turn Amsterdam’s recyclable plastic waste into comfortable and durable benches thanks to the power of 3D printing.
The New Raw has printed multiple prototypes of a curvy, spacious bench that seats two people comfortably. The group estimates they can use 3D printing to make two benches from the plastic waste generated by every three residents in a year.
While the trend for hiring 3D printing designers and subcontracting out services may extend across the globe, consumers are looking for local delivery outlets so they don’t have to pay a lot for shipping. Furniture manufacturers are embracing both the global and local trends by hiring designers worldwide and then setting up 3D printing facilities local to their customers. Furniture is made with 3D printing and assembled close by but may rely on the design work of an international subcontractor. This saves on shipping to benefit the manufacturer, the buyer, and the environment.
Chair legs and table surfaces are all adaptable to 3D printing, but furniture designs like chairs require a higher level of comfort that can be hard to achieve with metal or plastic materials. However, large scale 3D printing allows for construction of chairs in single units rather than assembled parts.
Combine the large scale 3D printing breakthroughs with careful design to create supportive and flexible seating surfaces and you get a chair that is quickly printed from start to finish while remaining comfortable enough for hours of use at a time.
Finally, many furniture manufacturers are embracing 3D printing and other digital methods of designing and manufacturing components because of the greater opportunity for controlling copyright violations. The entire design can feature advanced watermarking features that are triggered when printed without permission, resulting in finished products that are clearly unauthorized reproductions. You can’t get that kind of intellectual property protection from many other manufacturing methods other than 3D printing.