Ever since metal 3D printing became sufficiently cost-effective to be used for certain luxury goods, designer faucets have attracted the interest of designers and metal 3D printer service providers. A few attempts have been made at commercialization but mostly they have remained an exercise in style. This is where the new UNIQ-Ǝ! steps in, combining nearly thirty years of experience in the sanitary fittings industry with the new design possibilities offered by metal additive manufacturing.
The initiative is the brainchild of Mr. Giovanni Pitturru, President of SOSITALIA, a firm that has been around for over 26 years in the heart of the faucet industry of Northern Italy. Mr. Pitturru’s ongoing efforts to always stay one step ahead of competitors, led him to become fascinated with 3D printing technology, learning how AM is disrupting many different industries, from prosthetics to fundamental structural design in aerospace to even making sports shoes or clothing. “This ‘think it, we print it’ concept seems too good to be true, by proclaiming to achieve everything that was previously unachievable through traditional production,” Pitturru says.
Once Pitturru learned about the possibility of using SLM for metal 3D printing, he contacted the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano for a collaboration targeted at confirming what he was thinking: metal 3D faucet production.
AM production flowing
However, applying AM to faucet production is not the same as making prototypes and display models. “Sure, the bizarre designs are all mostly achievable, but there are numerous difficulties to overcome seeing as the faucet is a consumer product,” Pitturru explains. “We had to ensure the material of the faucet met International standards for drinking water and for cooking, as well as guarantee a specific design wouldn’t disturb the faucet’s functionality.
The gorgeous UNIQ-Ǝ! faucets are designed digitally and of course, they prototyped using desktop stereolithography 3D printing. The final parts can be 3D printed in a wide range of pure materials which can contribute to the value and exclusivity of each project: these include stainless steel AISI 316L, EN 1.4404, copper and copper alloys, titanium and titanium alloys, and even precious metals such as silver, gold and palladium.
“The biggest challenge we had to face was the finishing and therefore all the post-processing after printing the metal faucets. Pitturru continues. “Faucets have always been seen as a smooth, shiny, metal appliance in bathrooms and kitchens. Apart from a 1980s touch of color, chrome plating has dominated the finish request for most international clients.
The currently applied chrome plating system, which includes the use of nickel, is now being strictly regulated worldwide because both chrome and nickel can be harmful elements for both health and the environment. The UNIQ-Ǝ! team decided to deliver a strong message and a contribution to environmental protection by not using the electro galvanic treatments typical of chrome and gold plating.
After four years of research, trial and error, in close support and collaboration with professors and students from the Politecnico, the team finally made a breakthrough in realizing how fundamental the AM post-process. They found a way to successfully finish the faucets using the latest technologies in PVD (physical vapor disposition) or DLC (diamond-like carbon), which further upholds the sustainable nature of this high-tech production through zero emissions of dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere. Even the workers operate in a safer and healthier environment during production.
A new market on the horizon
After presenting our products at the ISH 2019 fair in Frankfurt (and more recently at Downtown Design Dubai from 9 to 14 November 2020), Pitturru realized that there was a market for this business, just not one designed by him alone. He decided that he was going to start-up the UNIQ-Ǝ! brand to service designers, architects and innovators that want to design their own faucet, instead of having to purchase what was already available. As the technologies become increasingly available, customization is becoming increasingly appealing.
Designers, architects, interior designers and innovators are all already having a field day with less limitations to producing their designs and we can finally say that we have the know-how to meet those requirements in bathroom and kitchen faucets, even as a one-piece production.
“The pieces that I am showing are only a selection of faucets that we designed internally, or that Giorgia Galimberti designed,” Pitturru says. “She is in a completely brand new category of designers, evolving with the technological birth and development of this new 3D industry.”
“We are not designers,” Pitturru clarifies. “If we can turn our ‘brush-your-teeth-wash-your-face’ faucet into custom-made bathroom appliances that indicate personalization by matching other accessories in the domain – giving recognition to the person who designed it by engraving their name on the faucet – well, that will completely revolutionize the sanitary fittings industry.”