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Huge potential: 3D-printed furniture for the interiors industry

Industries from medical technology to textiles have embraced 3D printing. Now the furniture sector is following in their footsteps and discovering 3D printing. Manufacturers who decide to use 3D printers to produce furniture stand to benefit from endless possibilities for creating new products and greater flexibility in the materials selection.

Feb 21 2018

Creating more complex designs

From chairs to tables and sideboards, furniture can already be made with diverse 3D printing methods today, either as individual custom-made items or in small batches. But what benefits does the new technology offer? Firstly, 3D printing enables more complex designs – intricate structures that are extremely difficult or completely impossible to create with other processes. With additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, structures with internal cavities can also be produced. What’s more, the materials used and the weight can be considerably reduced.

More flexible materials selection

As production is controlled by a CAD programme on a computer, additional tools are no longer required. The flexibility in terms of materials selection is a further bonus. In addition to plastics, many other semi-fluid materials, including concrete or plaster, can be processed in 3D printers. And with 3D-printed furniture, any conceivable colour design becomes possible. Effects such as structures, textures and colour gradients can be created directly during production and are immediately visible.

"Rapid Liquid Printing"

The only downside to 3D printing so far has been its speed. The 3D printers currently in use are extraordinarily slow and hence unsuitable for widespread commercial use. But now a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a 3D-printing process that is up to ten times faster than a standard 3D printer. The new technology was created in collaboration with office furniture manufacturer Steelcase. Instead of hours, rapid liquid printing can produce structures in a matter of minutes. They are printed as freely suspended objects in a container filled with gel.

3D technology is a great opportunity

Whether 3D-printed furniture will prove to be more than just a trend is something only time will tell. But whatever the long-term outcome, one thing is sure: there’s no reason for the furniture industry to fear this new technology. Instead, companies in the interior design industry should see 3D-printing technologies as an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and benefit from the boom. According to forecasts by the market researchers and analysts Gartner, 20 per cent of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will be using 3D printing in their production lines by 2021.

IKEA gets on board with 3D printing

Swedish furniture company IKEA is also well ahead of the curve and calling for others to catch up with the digital revolution. With IKEA PS 2017, the company is marketing a collection of knitted furniture produced with a fully automated 3D-knitting machine. The market leader is also planning to manufacture replacement parts for old products with 3D printers.

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