Furniture company Steelcase recently enlisted the help of 3D printing companies Fast Radius and Carbon to redesign and upgrade its award-winning SILQ office chair using additive manufacturing. Working together, the partners designed, engineered and 3D printed an arm cap for the chair which can be customized to the user’s body. IMTS visitors can see the 3D printed office chair in person in Chicago from September 10 to 15.
Steelcase, a Michigan-based furniture company founded in 1912, has expressed an interest in leveraging 3D printing technologies for furniture production. In fact, the company announced earlier this year it was partnering with BigRep to enhance the furniture design process.
Now, Steelcase has given a fresh update to one of its most successful pieces, the SILQ office chair, using 3D printing. The project, enabled by Fast Radius and Carbon, demonstrates how additive manufacturing can improve and speed up product development processes and be used to “differentiate” products in the market through customization.
“Ever since SILQ first debuted, we have continued to experiment with enhancements to the chair’s design, living up to our reputation of pursuing innovation,” explained Bruce Smith, Steelcase Director of Global Design. “The additive manufacturing processes from Fast Radius and Carbon enabled us to streamline the already-unique aesthetics of the chair with a lattice structure that also condensed three parts into one.”
“The flexibility of our Application Launch Program (ALP) provided the freedom to brainstorm and try new design ideas for the SILQ,” added Lou Rassey, Fast Radius Chief Executive Officer. “For a design-driven company like Steelcase, this was crucial. Unlike traditional lengthy and expensive design cycles, the additive manufacturing process meant Steelcase could go through as many redesigns as needed to get it right.
“In this instance, we went from the initial idea with around 100 variables and produced over 12 unique designs in just eight weeks.”
Because the SILQ chair is designed with users and their comfort in mind, Steelcase has wanted to add customization to the chair’s design for some time. Thanks to 3D printing, the chair now integrates a fully customizable armrest which takes into account the users’ body and movements. More specifically, the armrest has been divided into four zones, each based on different attributes of how a person’s arm could interact with it (for instance, elbow, laid flat, etc.).
With the information for these four zones determined, the armrest can then be 3D printed in a single piece using Carbon’s proprietary Digital Light Synthesis technology enabled by Fast Radius. As Smith mentioned, the technology enabled them to integrate a complex lattice structure which, in turn, allowed them to cut back on material usage by 70% without impacting the chair’s performance.
“Carbon’s digital 3D Manufacturing solution empowers companies like Steelcase with the freedom to design and build next-gen products on the means of production, at scale,” concluded Dr. Joseph M. DeSimone, Carbon CEO and co-founder. “In addition to Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesisä technology, our novel approach combines connected, data-centric hardware with over-the-air software updates and innovative materials—like the ones used to create the lattice for the SILQ armrest—enabling creators to design and produce previously unmakeable products both economically and at mass scale.”