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Made to measure: 3D printing in the furniture industry


Printed furniture surface “Radiolaria” by OceanZ and Lilian van Daal, © Manon van Daal

Printed furniture surface “Radiolaria” by OceanZ and Lilian van Daal, © Manon van Daal

The furniture industry discovered the benefits of 3D printing several years ago. Companies and designers are looking for new applications and experimenting with materials and shapes. But what opportunities and advantages does the process really offer? Current projects demonstrate the potential of 3D printing for interior design.

Many companies and designers in the furniture sector have been working with 3D printing for some time and have already gained initial experience. The technology can be used in many different ways – whether for the production of entire pieces of furniture or individual components. The advantages of the process are plain to see. There are hardly any limits to creative design, the choice of materials is more flexible and hardly any waste is produced. There are also advantages in the assembly and individual adaptation of furniture.

The large Swedish furniture store with a four-letter name has already used 3D printing for the production of knitted furniture and spare parts. The group is also planning a chair for online gamers whose 3D-printed seat can be adapted to the anatomy of the respective buyer. Similar examples can be found in the independent design scene. The Data Stool by Dutch designer Henri Canivez, for example, measures the size and shape of the individual user. The seat is then created by means of 3D printing using an algorithm.

The process appears to be especially predestined for individualised products like these. A current research project at the Institut für Holztechnologie Dresden (IHD institute of timber technology) is investigating a new suspension system for upholstered furniture using the fused filament fabrication process. The project aims to make it considerably easier to adapt the seating comfort to customer requirements.

Rapid Liquid Printing
Printed furniture surface
Dining set
Objects made of paper waste

“3D-FeSy” suspension system for upholstery in the printing process, © Institut für Holztechnologie Dresden (IHD)

Rapid Liquid Printing: 3D printing process for office furniture, © Steelcase

Printed furniture surface “Radiolaria” by Ozeanz and Lilian van Daal, © Manon van Daal

Dining set "Saul" with 3D printed connecting elements, © Jon Christie

Objects made of paper waste printed with the Paper Pulp Printer, © Beer Holthuis

One of the major advantages of 3D printing is its speed, which is constantly being optimised. “Rapid Liquid Printing” is the name given to one of the latest processes, which was developed last year by MIT Self-Assembly Lab researchers in cooperation with furniture manufacturer Steelcase. The new printing process builds up objects layer by layer in a gel-filled container. Its objective is to create structures much faster than with conventional methods in order to create more personalised office furniture.

3D printing is also increasingly being employed to reuse raw materials. Researchers at Michigan Technological University have developed a filament from recycled wood waste from the furniture industry for use in 3D printers. The aim of the project is to produce new furniture components from leftover wood scraps. The furnishing objects created by Dutch designer Beer Holthuis are made of recycled paper waste. His Paper Pulp Printer produces objects from paper pulp, which could be a sustainable alternative to plastic.

Biomimicry is the name designer Lilian van Daal has given to her chair project, which she developed together with the 3D printing company OceanZ. The chair is made of a single material, which is both stable and flexible and is inspired by microorganisms. The waste-free production of the chair requires no foams or adhesives.

The 3D printing process appears to be forward-thinking, particularly when it comes to the production of individual components. Scottish designer Jon Christie was one of the first to combine traditional furniture production with this new technology. Using connecting elements made in a printer, his wooden chairs can be assembled quickly and designed according to the customer’s wishes.

Many pieces of furniture produced using 3D printers are still laborious design experiments. But it looks like it’s only a matter of time before the additive process can also be used to produce inexpensive objects for mass use. Sustainability and waste avoidance considerations speak in its favour, as do the advantages of fast and personalised manufacturing.