New Liquid 3D Printing Method by MIT and Steelcase

The innovative method, called ‘Rapid Liquid Printing’, has been successfully tested for customizing office furniture.
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Scientists at the MIT Self-assembly Lab and Global Furniture Manufacturer Steelcase teamed up to develop a new and faster method of liquid 3D printing

RLP allows for different line thicknesses within a single extrusion.

Rapid Liquid Printing (RLP)  allows for different line thicknesses within a single extrusion.

Let’s face it once again. In a consumer goods industry, where quality of finish and time are  key factors, conventional 3D printing is still fairly a slow process. Among other reasons, this is because most 3D printers require a series of steps to cure, replenish and reposition themselves for each additive cycle; In addition, printing large objects can take you more than 50 hr. and results are usually rough to the touch.

As a consequence, 3D printing has struggled to take off in any meaningful way in the consumer goods industry.

With this in mind, MIT and Steelcase experts unveiled Rapid Liquid Printing (RLP) at Milano Design Week.

RLP is a speedy and scalable technique that might allows to make large-scale manufacturing of customized furniture a reality; In contrast to other 3D printing processes, it does not need of conventional support  material, layers or structures, which means every stage of production, from extrusion to curing, occurs during the printing process.

Rapid Liquid Printing mainly focuses on size, speed, and quality material.

MIT’s printer essentially injects material in continuous streams into a tub. It actually extrudes and mixes a two-part liquid polyurethane inside a vat of supporting gel; After ‘drawing’ the piece, you can simply remove it from the supporting goo and  wash it with plain water.

Rapid Liquid Printing works with rubber, foam, plastic, or any other industrial liquid material for that matter.

“As a designer, what’s most fascinating and unique about Rapid Liquid Printing is the line quality of the print. It’s soft, almost organic. It evokes images of brushstrokes or the branches of plants… The printing speed is very impressive. In the far future, large scale objects could be printed in minutes instead of days. Also, it’s not limited to typical 3D printing material making the technology very desirable from a design perspective.”

-Yuka Hiyoshi, turnstone senior industrial designer.

When it comes to speed, RLP can manufacture a solid object in a matter of minutes. The team already tested a structure that would have taken 50 hours using a traditional 3D printing process in just 10 minutes with rapid liquid printing.

The innovative method has been successfully tested for customizing office furniture.

The innovative method has been successfully tested for customizing office furniture.

Gravity is no longer an issue for Rapid Liquid Printing.

The structure just hardens in the gel, with no need for setting or curing with light or heat. Hence it gives the designer the possibility to draw in 3D without the limitations of gravity. The final result is sturdy pieces of awesome-looking designs created out of hard plastics or flexible rubbers.

However, the team is researching how to scale the technology, and how to apply it to materials like metal.

Watch Rapid Liquid Printing process video here:

I have found this process is so satisfying to watch for some reason. But that’s not the point.

Judging by the clip, the partnership focuses mainly on furniture design, specifically on customization, therefore one of their goals is to “enhance the working environment by redesigning everyday furniture”. About the process, Steelcase’s Rob Poel said:

“There is breakthrough innovation taking place, but it’s not done. The hope is that the future will see this experience grow as customers will be able to customize and personalize their furniture.”

For now, RLP is still a proof of concept; Other factors like costs and viability of the process need to be taken into account. Anyways, it would be awesome to see manufacturers 3D printing customized furniture on demand soon.

Source: designboom.

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Comments 10

    • Hello Paul!

      As it was mentioned above, Rapid Liquid Printing is a technique currently under development by The Masachussets Institute of Technology and Steelcase, meaning it’s not available to the public yet, so there’s no information about the price, but maybe in a near future.

  1. Profile photo of Karen Propes

    Wow, what progress in the development of future designs, furniture, could also use as lamp covers and I also see how easy it would be to make furniture for dolls. Doll furniture has also skyrocketed in the price where this may also offer an alternative way of making a strong piece.

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