steelcase X MIT create customized furniture by 3D printing into liquid gel

steelcase X MIT create customized furniture by 3D printing into liquid gel


up until now, 3D printing has been a desirable yet limited tool for manufacturing. whilst great for creating small, one-off objects, the technique has long needed to be adapted to be used on a large, commercial level. with this in mind, scientists at the MIT self-assembly lab have collaborated with the global furniture brand steelcase and acclaimed product designer christophe guberan to yield a 3D printing breakthrough—piloting a new process dubbed rapid liquid printing. the technique allows for the creation of large scale objects in just minutes, and is poised to make large-scale manufacturing of customized furniture a reality.

rapid liquid printing is a breakthrough method from the MIT self-assembly lab

the collaboration between MIT, steelcase and guberan saw the customization of the turnstone (a steelcase brand) bassline table with a 3D printed top. rapid liquid printing focuses on size, speed, and quality material. the process involves printing inside a gel, essentially giving the designer the possibility to draw in 3D without the limitations of gravity. without having to work up designs layer by layer like traditional 3D printing methods, RLP allows printing objects to happen faster, on a scale as big as the machine will permit.

the lace-like table took just 28 minutes to construct

the design is then hardened by a chemical reaction on coming into contact with the gel, instead of using light or temperature setting methods. the finished object can then be removed from the gel, without any need for curing. rapid liquid printing works with rubber, foam, plastic, or any other industrial liquid material for that matter.

rapid liquid printing means 3D printing structures without having to build up layers

the technique allows objects to be printed within a matter of minutes, with mit self-assembly lab founder skylar tibbits explaining that it took just 28 minutes to print the intricate table top design. the team also successfully reproduced a structure that would have taken 50 hours using a traditional 3D printing process in just 10 minutes with rapid liquid printing.

rapid liquid printing can be used with rubber, foam, plastic, and other liquid industrial materials

turnstone senior designer yuka hiyoshi elaborates that ‘as a designer, what’s most fascinating and unique about rapid liquid printing is the line quality of the print. it’s soft, almost organic. it evokes images of brushstrokes or the branches of plants. in the far future, large scale objects could be printed in minutes instead of days. also, it’s not limited to typical 3D printing material making the technology very desirable from a design perspective.’ (76)
the designer simply draws into the gel to create a design

the new technique yields a breakthrough in allowing manufacturers to 3D print customized furniture on demand. the bassline table top was created for an office environment, under the philosophy that customized furniture can contribute towards a more human-centered experience in the workplace. the perfecting of the rapid liquid printing technique now allows for experimentation with different materials. the partnership between MIT and steelcase will see the perfecting of the printing process, and finding the best product to print, that takes the greated advantage of the new process. (77)
the gel allows the designer to draw without the limitations of gravity (78)
on reacting with the gel, the liquid sets and can be extracted from the tub (10)
3D printed structures can be created in minutes

the structure hardens in the gel, with no need for setting or curing with light or heat

rapid liquid printing could be a game changer in terms of custom furniture production

designs can be printed as large as the size of the machine

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