We’ve all heard the talk about 3D printing technology and how it’s going to change the world. But did you think that 3D printed furniture would ever be a thing? One certain fact is that the advent of 3D printing has led to a dramatic shift in the manufacturing industry. Everywhere you look, you can find examples of 3D printing being utilized for almost anything, from micro sized objects only a few centimeters in size, to giant structures spanning multiple feet in length. So why not furniture?
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3D printing technology has really opened up the door to the human imagination. From prosthetic limbs to car parts, 3D printing has made it possible to create intricate designs and shapes that were previously impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.
Of the many use cases that 3D printing has to offer, printing furniture might be one of the most practical and logical application of this technology.
In this article, we will no only answer the question: “can you actually make furniture with 3D printing?” We will also explore some benefits as well as limitations, and how this technology can potentially change the way we design and manufacture furniture, while also helping to promote sustainability.
Using 3D printing in the furniture industry is by no means mainstream (yet), but the implications as the technology matures and grows can be quite beneficial for the consumer.
Imagine being able to design and print that perfect coffee table right in your own home. If something were to break, you can easily print out a replacement part and repair your furniture right away.
You’ll no longer need to depend on manufacturers, who (let’s be honest) could care less once the sale is complete, to resolve your issues. Being able to take manufacturing into your own hands could be a real game changer.
We won’t go into details about what 3D printing is since that isn’t the topic of this article. We’re assuming you already have a basic understanding of the 3D printing world, and you are simply intrigued by the idea of being able to 3D print larger objects such as furniture.
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Although 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it didn’t actually become mainstream until the early 2000’s. In today’s times [early 2023 as of writing this article] producing furniture through 3D printing is still pretty cutting-edge. And even though 3D printed furniture is quite a novelty, there are some unique advantages that we believe could cause this industry to explode.
What Exactly is 3D Printed Furniture?
3D printed furniture entails building up a three-dimensional item (in this case, furniture) from a digital computer model, layer by layer. With 3D printing, it’s possible to make furniture without using time-consuming and labor-intensive methods like mold making, casting, or cutting.
These printers use a special type of “ink”, known as filament, to create the piece of furniture based on the computer model. The process is highly precise and allows for the creation of complex designs and shapes that are not possible with traditional manufacturing methods.
Three-dimensional printing (or 3D printing) enables the production of intricate designs that would be impossible to manufacture using more conventional techniques. In addition, 3D printing lets designers make pieces of furniture that are tailored to each customer’s specific requirements.
What Materials Do 3D Printers Use to Print?
This is where the magic of 3D printing is truly mind blowing. 3D printing technology has taken great leaps and bounds and the “ink” that is available to be used for 3D printing ranges from plastics, to metals and even organic biological matter (that will eventually allow us to print organs or even body parts). As mentioned before, this “ink” that 3D printers used is called filaments, and commonly used filaments include:
PLA (Polylactic Acid) – a biodegradable, plant-based plastic that is easy to use and produces high-quality prints.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) – a strong and durable plastic that is commonly used in automotive and industrial applications.
PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) – a versatile and strong plastic that is resistant to impact and weathering.
Nylon – a strong and flexible plastic that is commonly used in the manufacturing of gears and other mechanical parts.
TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) – a flexible and rubber-like plastic that is commonly used in the production of phone cases and other consumer products.
PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) – a water-soluble filament that is commonly used as a support material for 3D printing.
HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) – a strong and lightweight plastic that is commonly used as a support material for 3D printing.
Wood – a filament that is made from a PLA base material with wood particles added in and produces a wood-like finish on printed objects.
Metal – a filament that is infused with metal particles and produces metal-like finishes on printed objects. Not all 3D printers will be able to utilize all filament types. Metal filaments, especially, will most likely require a dedicated printer of its own, such as the Makerbot Method 3D Printer.
What Material is Used for 3D Printed Furniture?
Out of the list above, which is by no means a comprehensive list, the most suitable material will most likely depend on the specific furniture application and characteristics you are striving for.
There’s no doubt that all the filaments listed above can be used to 3D print furniture, but the results can vary from filament to filament.
For example, you may want to use ABS filaments to create furniture that requires strength and durability. Such as this SuperMod modular wall system by Simplus Designs.
PETG is a versatile and strong filament that is resistant to impact and weathering. It can be used to create furniture that needs to withstand outdoor environments.
Wood filaments are made from a PLA base with wood particles infused in. This filament can be used to create furniture with a wood-like finish. They are ideal for creating decorative or ornamental furniture pieces, because they lack the strength of actual wood. You wouldn’t want to put excessive weight onto structures printed with wood filaments (as counterintuitive as that sounds).
In recent years there are companies like Forust who is pioneering 3D printing platforms that use real wood filaments to print amazing looking designs such as these decorative pieces:
Another example is if you want flexibility in your printed furniture, you may want to consider using a nylon filament, or if you want comfort, then consider a TPU filament to create a soft, rubber-like finish (similar to the material found in many phone cases on the market today).
Benefits of 3D Printed Furniture
There are several advantages to using 3D printed furniture when compared to conventional manufacturing methods:
Customization: 3D printing allows for the creation of highly customized furniture pieces that are tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the user. This means that furniture can be designed to fit perfectly into a particular space instead of trying to find it at your local furniture store. That can be a very frustrating experience, where you are constantly followed around by a hungry sales-person asking if you’re doing OK.
Reduced waste: 3D printing allows for the production of furniture on demand, which means that there is no need for large scale manufacturing or excess inventory. This can reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of furniture production. The printing process will only as as much filament as the computer design calls for, nothing more, nothing less.
Cost-effective: 3D printing can be a cost-effective way to produce furniture, especially for small-scale production runs or one-off pieces. It eliminates the need for expensive tooling and can reduce labor costs. Also prototyping can happen very quickly, so you can quickly cycle through several designs, a process that would be extremely expensive and time consuming for a traditional furniture maker.
Faster production: 3D printing can significantly speed up the production process for furniture, as there is no need for molds or tooling. This means that furniture pieces can be produced more quickly and efficiently than with traditional manufacturing methods.
Design freedom: 3D printing allows for a high degree of design freedom, as complex shapes and intricate details can be easily produced. This means that furniture pieces can be highly artistic and expressive, and can incorporate unique features and functions. BITS&PARTS is one such company that has been exploring this freedom of design with unique furniture like this KIDS MAKER CHAIR P39.
Issues related to 3D Printed Furniture
While 3D printing offers many benefits for furniture design and production, there are also some limitations that need to be considered. Here are some of the main limitations to 3D printing furniture:
Size limitations: 3D printers have size limitations that can make it difficult to produce large furniture pieces. This means that some furniture designs may not be feasible with current 3D printing technology. One company, CREALITY, is doing something very clever to partially address this concern by adding a conveyer belt to their 3D printer system so you can create much bigger pieces compared to a traditional 3D printer.
Material limitations: While there are many different materials that can be used for 3D printing, not all of them are suitable for furniture production. Some materials may not be strong enough, durable enough, or safe enough for use in furniture. The perfect furniture printing material has probably not be developed yet. As more and more people start to use 3D printing technology to print furniture, the materials will evolve with it.
Print time: 3D printing can be a time-consuming process, especially for larger and more complex furniture pieces and the complexity of the piece of furniture you are designing. As 3D printers get better and better, this is one aspect that manufactures are sure to spend much of their R&D efforts to try to address. One of the faster printers on the market right now is the ANYCUBIC Photon M3 Plus.
Surface finish: While 3D printing can produce highly detailed and complex shapes, the surface finish may not always be as smooth or polished as with traditional manufacturing methods. This can impact the aesthetics of the furniture piece, and will require additional labor to polish and finish off the surface to make it usable and comfortable.
Cost: While 3D printing can be cost-effective for small-scale production runs or one-off pieces, the primary cost lies in the initial investment. While 3D printers have certainly gotten cheaper over time, ones that are capable of printing furniture of usable size and finish are still quite expensive. A great budget 3D printer is the CREALITY Ender 3.
Looking Into the Future of the 3D Printed Furniture Revolution
As 3D printing technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for furniture design and manufacturing are virtually limitless. In the future, we can expect to see even more intricate and complex designs, as well as the use of new materials and manufacturing techniques.
In addition, as sustainability becomes an increasingly important consideration, we can expect to see more 3D printed furniture made from recycled materials and other sustainable sources.
The future is, no doubt, very bright and we are barely scratching the tip of the iceberg. A revolution is coming and it will be upon us in the next handful of years.
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