May 08, 2012      

Tables and chairs for casual dining represent an $8 billion slice of the more than $96 billion annually in retail sales of furniture and home furnishings. A Dutch inventor named Dirk Vander Kooij believes that his 3D printing robot that prints out tables and chairs ?from recycled materials, no less? has more than a passing chance to impact that industry in a very big way.

Robot printing furniture

For months now, Vander Kooij and his 30-year-old retrofitted FANUC robot have been 3D printing tables and chairs that are sturdy, functional and quite attractive; so different and unique, in fact, that he was invited to show at ?The Future in the Making?, an exhibition organized by Domus for Milan Design Week 2012.

The website RobotsDreams carries a video of the process, saying: ?OK- all the buzz and furor about small 3D printing technology, like the Makerbot, is great, and it will be wonderful when all of us have the ability to create any necessary, or unnecessary, object at home, at will. But, what’s at the other end of the scale – bigger, better, and even more ecological? How about a 3D printer robot that recycles waste of all types (from old computers, TVs, refrigerators, etc. ) and uses it to print big stuff, like furniture? Wouldn’t that be cool??

Well, that?s what the Eindhoven-based designer is doing: printing big enough to sit on. ?He commandeered an old robot, whose previous life was in a Chinese factory, and gave it a new station in life ? as a furniture designer. The robot took about a year to reprogram into a controllable chair maker. After the refrigerators are pulverized and melted, Van Der Kooij adds pigment and the robot gets to work. Distributing a single molten plastic string, the robot applies layer upon layer in Van Der Kooij?s design, reversing direction to build up the plastic layers until the chair is complete.?

?I wanted to find a production process that gave me the chance to adapt and change a small series of product without complicated molds,? said Vander Kooij

?I wanted to use plastic because it has a lot of opportunities as a material and I wanted to show a different approach, and perhaps a sort of unorthodox approach of plastic. By using recycled plastic the history of the material becomes visible. The colors will have shades and thereby every chair is unique.?

Finished chair for 3D robot

Vander Kooij?s machine and process is the ultimate in no inventory, just-in-time manufacturing, while at the same time being a champion in recycling waste materials by truly transforming trash into treasure.

One of Vander Kooij?s chairs sells for a very pricey $625. Wow, but that?s as art; tomorrow will be quite a different story.That?s because today there is but one such robot tirelessly fabricating furniture, but it shows the way forward. Real meaning will come when the machines reach critical mass and produce tens of thousands or even millions of pieces.

It?s the ultimate of Green furniture manufacturing: it converts waste materials into newly finished, highly saleable consumer products, and it doesn?t harm a single leaf on a single tree anywhere. Not bad. Now, if the robot could be made to run on solar energy, it would make for a hat trick with some very cool benefits.

See video: 3D Robot Furniture Fabrication