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3D Printers & The Potential Impact on Commercial Design

Remember the controversy over 3D printed guns or the excitement about 3D printed houses?

3D printing has gained quite a bit of hype in recent years, yet in the commercial design world, it has yet to hit a tipping point.

Will 3D printing eventually become a game-changer for commercial design, or will it be just a fad?

Right now it’s too soon to tell, but one application is certain—3D printing will allow designers to experiment with new ideas and unique approaches to personalization and detail in the most modern of offices.

We’re at a pivotal moment in 3D printing’s evolution. Will it remain a niche process used by tech enthusiasts in makerspaces? Or will it become an indispensable tool in the world of commercial design?

From 3D printing’s humble beginnings to the leading edge of innovation, we will explore the implications of 3D printing breakthroughs in workplace design.

Back to 3D Printing Basics

Thirty years ago, 3D printing was called “rapid prototyping.” It was—and still is—used to quickly create prototypes of new products before they are mass produced in manufacturing plants. At the moment, 3D printing isn’t ideal for mass production, and it won’t be replacing centralized manufacturing any time soon, although the technology needed to start making that a reality has begun being utilized (exciting!).

Reasons why 3D printing isn’t feasible for mass productions yet include:

  • Lower product strength
  • Extreme cost of high-quality 3D printers
  • 3D printed objects can contain only one type of material (usually plastic)

For now at least, traditional 3D printing methods are best for creating models, and basic designs for simple products. For instance, a 3D printed office chair can give you a feel for the design, its dimensions, and how the chair will look in a room, with a hands-on experience that drawings and renderings cannot give you

The downside? You wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in an all-plastic chair for hours on end during your workday, and the flimsy material used for the model might not even hold your weight.

On the other hand, a manufactured task chair has fabric, mesh, foam, hard plastic, and metal components that come together to create a comfortable, adjustable and functional piece of office furniture designed to support your varied work tasks completed throughout the day.

Despite the known drawbacks of 3D printing, companies and research labs continue to attempt to develop new methods of 3D printing that are compatible with commercial design.

The Intersection of 3D Printing & Commercial Design

While we know that traditional methods of 3D printing are not efficient for mass-produced commercial designs, designers at Steelcase and researchers at MIT may have found a way around the limitations. They’ve created a new form of 3D printing.

Their new process is called rapid liquid printing or RLP. The RLP method can create large objects with varying degrees of thickness in just minutes—as opposed to the hours or even days that traditional 3D printing requires.

This new method of RLP 3D printing is unique in that it doesn’t print an object layer by layer like traditional 3D printers. Instead, RLP prints objects by injecting a liquid industrial material, like polyurethane, into a large container of gel. The RLP printer can draw designs in 3D space, providing designers with an excellent opportunity to turn their ideas into tangible, physical objects in a relatively short time frame.

When the printer finishes printing a design, a person simply removes it from the gel tank, rinses it off, and a designer’s vision is complete—a design concept in 3D reality. Furthermore, RLP can use everyday liquid industrial materials for production, such as polyurethane, foam, rubber and plastic, giving designers the flexibility to create truly customized pieces to fashion the office of the future.

3D Printing: A Catalyst for Change

The appeal of 3D printing for commercial design is in the opportunity for designers, manufacturers, and business owners to quickly and inexpensively experiment with personalization and customization. As the technology becomes more widely available, we’ll be able to test out ideas in 3D as opposed to on screens with computer-aided design.

Imagine using RLP 3D printing to create demo models so designers and business owners can tangibly visualize what new furniture will look like in their spaces. Models formed from foam or plastic are a step above the current 3D paper models or computer renderings. You can interact with a 3D model—pick it up, move it around, and get a feel for how a piece of furniture fits in an actual commercial space.

Even now, designers can use 3D printing to create simple personalized pieces to complement existing office furniture or add features to customize base models. Innovations in 3D printing are bringing within reach designs and concepts that weren’t possible before.

The possibilities of 3D printing are just coming to light, but ultimately advances in 3D printing innovation may revolutionize the way commercial workspaces are designed.

Ready for cutting-edge design?

No matter the method you prefer to use to plan your workspace layout, our team is here to help. Whether you’re looking for a complete workspace redesign or you’re interested in a few upgrades to freshen up your current office, we can show you the possibilities and come up with a plan to meet your needs.

Send us a message or give us a call at 877-779-3409 to learn more.




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