Jul 11, 2017 | By Julia

In major design news, Ikea has just announced the launch of its first ever 3D printed collection, “OMEDELBAR”, with plans to hit stores sometime next year. Consisting mainly of decorative pieces so far, the first 3D printed object in the collection is a mesh-inspired stylized hand that can be hung on the wall or used as a decorative hanger for jewellery. The quirky and eye-catching item was produced in collaboration with Swedish designer Bea Åkerlund. Having worked with Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and other pop stars, Åkerlund knows how to make a statement.

While not exactly a groundbreaking innovation within the additive manufacturing industry, the OMEDELBAR collection is a notable breakthrough in the domain of mass produced homeware. According to Jakub Pawlak, Trader Free Range Ikea Poland and project lead, Ikea is now one of the first major brands to use 3D printing in furnishing mass production. More importantly, the OMEDELBAR hand is a clear sign that 3D printing is here to stay, with increasing applications being seen across a vast range of manufacturing industries.

“We started this project one and a half years ago, predicting the boom in 3D printing in mass production. Traditionally the technology has been used for prototyping in high-tech industries or moulds used for traditional production methods,” explains Pawlak. “Now, we are closing fast on the breaking point where 3D is cost efficient in mass production. In that context, the OMEDELBAR hand will have its place in design production history.”

“The sign of a boom is everywhere,” agrees Shane Hassett, CEO of 3D printing company Wazp and collaborator with Ikea. As 3D printing grows in popularity, big players are beginning to release new techniques of their own, he says.

In the case of the OMEDELBAR hand, the 3D printing technique used wasn’t altogether new, but rather a twist on the classic Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) method. Spearheaded by Finnish company Materflow, where the Ikea hand was printed, this SLS process revolves around a printer heated to 177 degrees, where a block of powder with printed objects inside sits for about 40 hours. After removal, the block is placed into a sealed wooden box, where it remains for a full 24 hours when the temperature comes down to 60 degrees.

“We developed this technique to be able to start a new print session immediately instead of letting the machine cool down,” says Sami Mattila, a founding partner at Materflow.

Following the cooling process, the build is taken apart. Printed items are blasted (either automatically or by hand) and then cleaned, dried, quality tested and shipped out. 3D Printing in Nylon 12, Mattila says the material was chosen for its durability, flexibility, chemical resistance, insensitivity to stress cracking, and high resistance to UV radiation. The result is a strong and striking piece that simply couldn’t have been made by traditional methods.

As for Ikea’s future in 3D printing, Pawlak notes 4 possible directions the mass furniture producer could take in the following years. The first is already underway with the OMEDELBAR hand: small decorative objects with little to no functionality. Second is what Pawlak calls “small life hacks.” The third possible direction revolves around creating more complex designs that were previously not possible with traditional production techniques. Finally, Pawlak sees 3D printing on demand as a very real possibility for Ikea if production costs continue to drop.

“I predict that in two years’ time IKEA will have some kind of solution for this. But [whether] there will be printers in our IKEA stores, printer stations close to the different markets or local pickup points, this is still to be seen,” Pawlak notes on Ikea's website.

Regardless of which route(s) Ikea will pursue, company representatives say that in the next couple of years, we can expect a hybrid of manufacturing and distribution facilities to be dotted around the globe, where products can be streamlined directly to Ikea’s needs. As Hassett notes, “we have all we need today to create a solution for it; now it is just a matter of time.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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