Jon Christie, a former DJ with over 20 years’ experience in furniture making, is one of the first designers to combine traditional furniture production with cutting-edge 3D printing technology. We spoke with him about his first steps with a 3D printer and about the opportunities that 3D printing is opening up for the future of the furniture industry.
My University (University of Dundee) had just purchased some 3D printers (2015) and I was keen to take advantage of the emerging technology. I had used 3D printing previously but had sent my designs off to be printed elsewhere.
Ultimaker were kind enough to lend me a couple of 3D printers while I was making the 'Saul' dining table and chairs. The Ultimaker Original the first printer I took home was a steep learning curve, especially while using Color Fabbs XT-CF20 a filament containing carbon fibre. I encountered problem after problem during the project most of them were related in some way to 3D printing and my lack of knowledge.
Problems with filaments not printing well, 3D printers getting jammed, print beds not level, problems with parts shrinking, expanding, or moving during printing. I even managed to cut through the tendons of a finger trying to remove some stubborn support material. The list goes on and on but as my experience grew, I overcame a lot of these problems.
I would say you just need to throw yourself into it. 3D printing is a new tool for the makers tool-box, you bring it out when the situation requires, when 3D Printing brings greater benefits over traditional manufacturing. The technology brings many advantages but also has its drawbacks, none more so the contraction and expansion that often effects parts unevenly.
This is a big problem when connecting these 3D printed parts with other materials if dimensions are slightly off. I spent a lot of time hand finishing the wooden parts to fit properly.
I have frequently used Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing to make up for a lack of woodworking skills. There were times in the woodwork shop when I knew what I was trying to achieve but just couldn't produce it. 3D printing allowed me to bring these ideas out into the three-dimensional world where they could be viewed, tested and developed. My areas of focus included, customisation, assembly, logistics and circle of life.
The materials for each project are chosen for their particular properties, strength, low flex, ease of use and can they be recycled. Colour is used in the same way any artist or designer might traditionally use it. If your working in PLA or ABS you can find almost any colour, other materials have fewer options.
The XT-CF20 I used to prototype the Saul pieces was only available in black, the polycarbonate used in my next project was only available in clear, black & white. The properties of the material take president over colour in development.
The shape of the furniture I design is not influenced by 3D printing in any way at present, this may well change. I design the chair etc. the way I want it, then work out the best way to make it, which more often than not will not include 3D printing. Assembly is similar to building a traditional piece of furniture, accurate, strong, tight joints are key.
With the 3D printed joints, furniture can be sent disassembled for quick assembly at its destination. Additionally, the ‘Saul’ chairs and table can be tailored to the customer’s tastes – allowing users to customise colour, dimensions, and choice of hardwoods.
The biggest problem often is finding suitable bonding agents when working with multiple materials. Traditional craftsmanship is always part of my process, there is no better material for furniture than wood in my opinion, something 3D printing will never replace.
Speed is the greatest advantage of 3D printing. It significantly speeds up the prototyping and development process for designers and manufacturers. Depending on the complexity of the project, it can take a few hours or a couple of days to design and produce a part. Then I have a three-dimensional prototype that I can test without going through a traditional, time consuming, costly manufacturing process.
New ranges of materials will be central to the continuation of the 3D printing revolution. Designers are looking for new materials with desirable properties suited to new applications or that improve on what we have currently. As the list of materials grow so will the popularity of what we call '3D printing'.
It’s early days but it has a bright future. Designers and Engineers will have to adapt their design process to take advantage of 3D printings ability to print multiple components with multiple moving parts in multiple materials in one run.