Two years ago, a Dutch student named Dirk Vander Kooij was designing furniture and preparing for his graduation project when he was inspired by an old 3D printer. So he got his hands on an industrial robot from a Chinese production line and reprogrammed it into a 3D printer to print furniture using recycled materials from old refrigerators. The robot, named Furoc, prints out furniture as a continuous line hundreds of meters long and can produce a chair in a variety of colors and designs in just 3 hours. Kooij says the method allows structures to be made 40 times faster than traditional 3D printing and can produce 4,000 chairs a year.
Since then, he’s been taking the robot to design exhibitions across Europe, winning the Dutch Design Award and DMY Award Berlin as well as being profiled in numerous publications along the way. This past weekend, Kooij was in Milan at the Domus Academy for “The Future In The Making” exhibit to showcase his “Endless” collection of furniture, demonstrate how the robot prints a chair, and get even more inspiration for 3D printed furniture.
To really appreciate what he’s accomplished, it’s best to watch the process of printing a chair:
Traditional plastic furniture is produced through injection molding, a process that is cost effective for the mass market because the expensive molds can be reused to produce large numbers of units. But the downside of injection molding is any modification in the design requires the production of another mold. The advantage of the 3D printing approach is that the chair is built up much like coiling a single, long rope, and it does so according to a design in a CAD file, which can be modified easily. To produce the “Endless” rocking chair, Kooij went through 54 prototypes to develop a chair that had straight lines, tight curves, and was actually comfortable to sit in. And each prototype was shredded and reused in the process along the way.
Kooij’s approach delivers on some of the big promises of 3D printing. Make anything you can imagine in a few hours, even big things like furniture. Print household items customized to your body, needs, and lifestyle. Minimize waste by using recycled materials.
But how disruptive could 3D printing be to furniture manufacturing? Well, one “Endless” rocking chair costs $1000, which means that currently the chair’s market is design collectors. But keep in mind that while Kooij is working with recycled plastic, similar printed furniture projects are being done by others, some of which are demonstrating 3D printing with some common materials found in furniture and appliances, such as wood, ceramics, fabrics, stainless steel, and glass. In other words, the foundation for being able to print sophisticated, custom furniture pieces out of multiple materials is being established. Furthermore, in just the last 3 months, we’ve reported how 3D printing has been used for making a jawbone implant, cathedrals and race cars smaller than dust mites, and programmable robots, reflecting a massive and widespread interest in 3D printing that’s leading to more innovation from companies like Makerbot.
Whether Kooij continues to innovate new furniture designs or starts up a small factory with a bunch of robots to make custom furniture remains to be seen. Regardless he has perhaps unintentionally become an advocate for the 3D printing movement.