3D Printing Robot Produces Chairs And Tables From Recycled Waste

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The 3D printing method can produce chairs in only three hours.

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.

You can hear Dirk talk about his inspiration at his latest exhibit here.

[Media: Dirk Vander Kooij, SmartPlanet, YouTube]

[Sources: Cool Hunting, Dirk Vander Kooij, Fast Company]

David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 8 Responses

  • singup April 23, 2012 on 9:33 am

    Marginal Cost per chair estimate?

    I read what I think you mean to say is he’s selling them at $1,000 each. And if he’s creating something someone sees a $1,000 value in, great. I’m just wondering what his actual costs are to print a chair. Materials, power, equipment rental time…

    Curious if we’re in the ball park yet of what a typical, old fashioned mass produced Chinese factory could pump them out at.

    Thank you.

    • why06 singup April 23, 2012 on 11:53 am

      Typical chinese factory? probably not, but I’ll say what I always say to technological advancement arguments. “Give it 10 years”. It doesn’t take so long for this type of technology to advanced. I’m not sure when it will explode to be visible in all our lives, but the 3d printing business is growing exponentially and expected to hit 5.8 billion dollars in 2020.

      The thing about these is that they aren’t meant to compete with the chinese factory just like the personal printer can’t compete with the newspaper industry. That level of production will never be in consumers hands, but companies will buy these because they offer such a great amount of detail. Eventually that detail and production speed will surpass conventional factories, but for now, imagine a small locally owned parts dealer, that downloads 3d models from manufacturers and prints highly specific parts for customers.

      And we can have the beginning of a production cycle not focused toward planned obsolescence, but repair and recycle. and ultimately that is the only way this planet will remain fertile with so many people in the coming decades.

      • gurdiac why06 April 24, 2012 on 12:40 am


      • brandnewyouthemovie why06 April 25, 2012 on 9:16 am

        Wait till IKEA cottons onto 3D printing. You will go in with the measurements of your space and work with an IKEA designer to create your sofa or chair or countertop – what colours you want, what shape, etc. And it will print it for you in a few hours and then they will deliver it to your home. Knowing IKEA, they’ll even give you a discount if you bring in your old piece of furniture or countertop to be recycled into another piece of furniture.

  • sarfralogy April 23, 2012 on 11:56 am

    Chemistry has gotten on the 3D printing bandwagon and a new approach may even allow people to print their own drugs. 3D printing brings drug production to the masses, but can it be regulated? http://bit.ly/Js0use

  • Joe Nickence April 23, 2012 on 11:53 pm

    This is cool. I can easily see a supporting market springing up from this. Currently he does his own plastics recycling. What is needed is just a major initiative for recycling plants that cater to 3D printing. His processing costs go down, while a jobs market opens up. Ideal consumer costs should be around $150 to $300 for a variety of designs.

  • reidsteven75 April 24, 2012 on 7:12 am

    Very cool! I think 3D printers like this are going to upset a lot of manufacturing industries. We will no longer need huge factories for some of the products we manufacture, just small printing hubs strategically located throughout cities. It’s interested to see where the personal 3D printing market is at right now. You pick one up for under $500 (DIY). http://www.3dprintingpad.com/ has all the personal 3D printers on the market right now.

  • Ivan Malagurski April 27, 2012 on 8:56 pm

    Cool 🙂