Strong partnership

Sustainable furniture from the 3D printer

When sustainable design products cross boundaries, it often takes a strong partnership to make it happen – and that's the case with the outdoor furniture piece Twine. The product is a collaboration between designers HagenHinderdael, Dutch sustainable materials provider Reflow and award-winning artificial intelligence and 3D robotics developer Ai Build.

May 11 2022

With teamwork to the goal 

The project was kicked off by Rossana Orlandi's call for the third Guiltless Plastic campaign. The London studio HagenHinderdael wanted to design a product for the campaign that represented a series of 3D-printed modular seating elements, which in turn were made entirely of r-PETG.

It was important to the designers Sofia Hagen and Lisa Hinderdael that the base material was recycled from waste medical serving trays. During the development phase, Hagen and Hinderdael realised that they needed suitable partners for the implementation – and they were quickly found.

The material itself was produced by Reflow, a sustainability-focused material development team that works with leading recyclers in the EU to extensively test discarded material streams and match them to specific design applications.

The process for the product involves Reflow melting and drawing shredded r-PETG plastic pellets through a series of specific heating zones until the medical tray waste can be coiled into filament for high-performance, large-format 3D printing. The filament is heat-resistant, weatherproof and durable for indoor and outdoor furniture use. 

Working with technology pioneer Ai Build, this filament is then transformed by Ai Build robotic systems using AiSync software to create conformal tool paths for printing on a bespoke mould. As the filament passes through the robotic system, the product is created. The system itself can carry up to four different filament streams, allowing for a progression of transparencies within the elements and releasing a rich spectrum of colours from the recycled material.  

The result of the seemingly easy, yet complex process is called Twine – an urban public furniture piece that pushes the boundaries of additive manufacturing with compliant 3D printing and bespoke design. We spoke now with Sofia Hagen and Lisa Hinderdael about the development and the additive manufacturing technology that went into the piece of furniture.

3D printing in perfection: KUKA industrial robots bring Studio HagenHinderdael's design ideas to life. © HagenHinderdael

Your product Twine combines robotics with additive manufacturing technology. How long did you work on the idea until it was ready for printing? 

Twine is the result of an open call by Rossana Orlandi’s Guiltless Plastic Campaign in which the brief requested playful outdoor furniture made of recycled plastic materials.

We completed the initial design in a three month period alongside extensive material research and the discovery of social enterprise Reflow and robotic software engineers Ai Build. The final prototype was an accelerated process and completed only one month later as we had to ensure the pieces were tested, functional, and ready for shipment to Milan Design Week!  

The company Ai Build, with which you first implemented Twine, works mainly for high-end customers from the aerospace, automotive, construction, marine and energy industries. What were the biggest challenges for you in the 3D printing process? 

Although Ai Build regularly works for Clients including Formula One and Boeing, the proposition of our project was a collaboration that we actively pursued as it would push their robotic technology to new heights.

The double-curved form of the Twine provided the ultimate 3d printing challenge as this had never been done before and the Ai Software had to be fully reprogrammed to create both a moulded form and teach the robot to print the shape accurately across varying levels.

The other challenge came with the material property itself as the r-PETG filament required a controlled temperature environment to ensure that the material would bind together without the print cooling down too quickly.  

When robotics meets additive manufacturing technologies, the result can look like the outdoor furniture piece Twine in no time. Twine was named a finalist for the RO PlasticPrize in 2021. © HagenHinderdael

The raw material for Twine is recycled hospital waste. How did you come up with the idea? How difficult was it to prepare the hospital waste so that it could be used as a material? 

Our original concept was to use medical face masks as these were at the forefront of our minds as a material we wanted to explore recycling during the pandemic. Through our research into materials with similar qualities, we came across Reflow – an Amsterdam based social enterprise working with medicinal tray waste and turning this into 3d printing filament.

The synergy between our companies was instant and we knew that Reflow, with its established supply chain for treated hospital waste could provide the perfect solution for Twines to come. Each Twine itself consists of up to 1.500 medical trays, hence preventing them from ending up in landfill!  

The Twine seating should be customisable in the future. To achieve this, you are working with your Italian KUKA partner Caracol-AM. How will the manufacturing technology be changed so that Twine can be adapted to customers' wishes? 

We are working closely with the teams of Caracol, Reflow and Ai Build to create the next generation of Twine as both an outdoor and an indoor seating element. The manufacturing process itself uses additive manufacturing which allows us to customise the width of each modular element.

Beyond this, we are also exploring new material options of r-PLA and recycled fibreglass to create varying customisations for different climates, allow coloured filaments within the prints, and seeing how to combine form and function to reach the widest audiences possible – all whilst remaining 100% recycled.  

Trained as architects and urbanists, Sofia Hagen and Lisa Hinderdael combine product design with art in their studio HagenHinderdael. They take a creative approach that explores the relationship between immersive art and biophilic design.

© HagenHinderdael

Author: Bernadette Trepte

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