Exploring FDM printed joints for flexible furniture.
How can the structure of 3D printed joints produce furniture forms inspired by flow through digital fabrication technologies?
Research and Context
The Bauhaus Era has had a heavy influence on design today, simplicity and function overruling many if not all design principles. While bent metal rod became a staple medium to experiment with the simplest geometries eventually became the foundation to many furniture designs produced by notable designers and architects.
Whereas, Charles Eames's organic forms seen in many of his designs were made through new processes by moulding plywood, giving fluidity to rigid materials.
But how would these design principles look applied to the next big production process of 3D printing?
3D printing today is high accessible and desirable to produce cheap, fast and extremely accurate prototypes and models. Regardless, there are still many restrictions to using FDM 3D printing, specifically in PLA. Scale becomes a critical factor especially when furniture is a large source of inspiration, pushing the project to explore a smaller aspect of form that influences the flow of an object.
As a result design and 3D printing Joints became a clear direction that enables experiments with size, shape, angles and design to be pushed and pulled in a multitude of ways.
The structure of Mechanical joints became a of great interest through the duration of the initial designs and in developing a 'style'. Mechanical joints such as the Ball and Socket and Hinge joint showcased the best of strength and complex internal system arrangements.
It was immediately clear that further exploration of the Ball and Socket joint would allow for a greater variation, including a more cohesive resolutions that best reflected the area of research.
Similar to FDM printing anything produced with clay must be made separately before being assembled. Much like the FDM's requirement to print support structure, firing glazed clay works in the same way, therefore requiring post print assembly. To understand this process I briefly experimented with moving clay parts acting as a joint.
It became clear that by separating the joint into three parts the complexity seen in the mechanical joint would allow for a greater range of movement from each arm.
From here the understanding of movement and sizing needed for the arms to rotate on an axis formed a clearer picture of what was more effective. By scaling up not only did the natural 3D printing effect have a greater surface to cover but it also enabled the celebration and showcase of the material. It was clear that regardless of an identical print there was always variations and unique differences in each print. Some thing that I came to appreciate as part of the process and eventual product.
At this point in the project the basic mechanical movement had been established and smooth organic shaping to the arm design resulted in lofting over the existing surface of the ball to create more flow and coherence to the arm.
Knowing that the joint would progress to be integrated into a larger piece, more suitable attachments to the arms was taken into consideration and modelled accordingly. The pairing became a celebration of marrying two very different worlds that clearly represent the future of the implementations of digital fabrication processes in production.
Although the visual design of the arm was beginning to look more fitting for the project direction, the material had been pushed to its limits. Modelling the arm at 2 mm thick had proven too thin, the strength from being modelled around the curve was not enough.
There is no doubt that PLA printing parts pose a limitation to more complex geometries. While SLS laser printed forms have the ability to be created with pri interconnecting parts, PLA printed are restricted to post print assembly.
Using the design of the current arm showcased the SLS's abilities of strength, beauty, and flexibility. The results were almost too perfect and the SLS wasn't able to reflect the unique marks and movements of the PLS printer. Something that I was surprised to find I missed. The FDM printed were far from perfect but I repeated that and had learnt to love it.
Establishing the final print material gave way to the over due implementation of a snap system that would give feedback throughout the joints use. The style of the system was initially difficult to determine, but eventually I settled on creating a smooth wave shape curve that allowed smooth and simple operation.
Once the snap system was put in place the design of the arms began to pose much more of a challenge than before. By thickening the walls of the arms to 4 mm the flex in the print was dramatically reduced, resulting in the breakage of both attempts.
While on the other hand, the difficulties of modelling in more challenging forms took its toll on modelling simpler elements. The radius and diameter for the extruded attachment for the wooden dowel were mixed, in combination with the snapped arms the resulted in a completely unusable print.
Scaling back to a smaller and slightly less dramatic project resolution for the joint was key to its successful implementation.
By designing a lamp that functions as an extension to a table the PLA joints versatility brings freedom to its use. With busy Art & Design project portfolio times in mind the lamp acts as a key tool for professionally photographing rapid prototypes. As more often than not we tend to overlook the minor details of lighting through the documentation of project explorations and development when the outcome appears more important.
During this paper I have encountered many challenged with both aspects of 3D modelling and bringing experimental learning to success. To begin the project there was a specific vision of elegance brought to life by the flow of seamless materials, yet in order to explore a Digital Fabrication process this has changed dramatically.
Through 3D printing an exploration of both the physical of PLA printed joints and CAD Rhino modelling has been used. With the project revolving around the mechanics of a joint looking back it would of made sense to of used a software such as Fushion to be able to both model and test the joints before printing.
It would pf been ideal to use the SLS printer eventually thought the process but the expense was too great to justify where there was still plenty to explore.