The folks at Cambridge, MA-based Formlabs recently announced the introduction of two new materials that mark their first major release since they launched on Kickstarter with the FORM1 3D printer, which made nearly 30 times its funding goal in October 2012. The first-generation SLA machine shipped starting in May 2013 and this June saw the release of the FORM1+, an all-around upgraded iteration of their flagship product, but their growing team has also been developing complementary products on both the software and materials sides. Check it out:
"Castable" is available now for $149 per 500mL; "Flexible" will be available in December.
When trying to "lightweight" something made out of steel, the designer's natural inclination is to turn to aluminum. But the R&D guys over at Mercedes-Benz recently did the opposite of that, and scooped up a Materialica Design and Technology Award for their trouble.
The MDT Awards are part of recently-held trade fair Materialica, which is dedicated to "Materials applications, surface technology and product engineering," and were intended to highlight lightweight design in transportation. To that end Mercedes took an aluminum piston design for a diesel passenger car and replaced it with a redesigned steel one.
Design theory is all fine and good, but one of the better things that will happen during an industrial design education is when schools connect with real companies that make real things. The company gets an opportunity to see what fresh minds would do with their product line-up, and design students get real-world feedback on creating something that's actually doable.
Case in point: The annual Zinc Challenge sponsored by InterZinc, a Michigan-based company that unsurprisingly specializes in zinc—the fourth most commonly used metal worldwide, they're quick to point out—and asks ID students to come up with product-based uses for the stuff. "Our challenge [is] a two part zinc casting design competition," the company writes. "The first part based on knowledge, the second on practical design."
"Everything can be a lamp with LumiLor," writes Darskide Scientific, the company that developed it. LumiLor is a patented coating that glows when a current is applied to it. (And yes, it's safe to touch, as it's sealed and insulated.) The brilliance of the system is that since it's water-based, you can load it up into any paintspraying system or airbrush and you're off to the races. Here's how the process is applied:
Created some two generations ago, in the heady pre-hyperlapse days, the Eames' Powers of Ten remains as relevant today as ever before. While the short film makes for an unlikely (or at least hyperbolic) comparison to the work of snow artist Simon Beck, the very concept of scale is precisely why both the film and the large-scale drawings are compelling and accessible to a broad audience.
Having previously seen Beck's work when it made rounds last year, I was interested to have the opportunity to interview him on the occasion of the launch of Icebreaker's inaugural artist collaboration, for which a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Protect Our Winters (a non-profit organization for climate change awareness). Commissioned by the apparel company, Beck's interpretation of a ram's horn—a reference to merino wool—features prominently among the geometric artwork that has been printed on the pieces in the new collection.
Over the past decade, Beck has all but perfected his technique of 'drawing' on snow and has recently expanded his enterprise to include works on sand as well; he employs snowshoes to achieve a kind of stippling effect on the former surface and a rake to etch lines in the latter. His only other tools are an orienteering compass and a string-and-anchor to demarcate the 'skeleton' of the piece relative to the center point or vertices. As for the content itself—canonical fractals and patterns of his own design, but sometimes cartoons by request—Beck goes by a thumbnail sketch and gut instinct, rarely drawing out the entire piece beforehand, because (as he dryly notes) "it's too time consuming."
It's already amazing that two teenaged brothers, aged just 15 and 18 years old, would start a company together. It's more amazing that that company's goal was to reclaim wool. Most amazing of all was when they started this company: In the year 1878.
In 19th-Century Italy, the brothers Calamai began collecting secondhand wool garments, shredding them into strips, and selling them to factories to be re-spun into yarn. But as the boys became men, they began amassing mechanical equipment that they could use to re-process the wool themselves, and eventually opened their own reprocessing factory. Decades before anyone even knew what environmentalism was, the Calamais were pioneering the art and science of reclaiming materials.
Here in 2014 the successful Figli di Michelangelo Calamai is now run by the fourth generation of Calamais, and while factory technology has advanced, they still stick to the old principles: They reclaim the wool from old garments and scraps mechanically, not chemically, and minimize the need to re-dye by carefully sorting colors.
What you see above are the new, no-tools-required connectors Ikea's designers have developed for their new Regissör line of furniture. Rather than using knock-down fasteners, they've created a wooden plug that looks like a cross between a dowel and a honey dipper.
The way that these "honey-dipper dowels" (not what they're officially called, but better than the "wedge dowel" title other blogs are calling it, which makes no sense) work is that the narrower end is pre-installed at the factory, leaving an exposed male end.
The female end of the connection, meanwhile, has been plunge-routed into the surface-to-be-adjoined, keyhole-style:
Because the router bit has the same accordion-like profile of the dowel head, the male end then slides into the routed grooves, maximizing the contact area to create a nice friction fit. You can see this in action in the video below.
Everyone loves to bash corporations, but few talk about how much good they can do in this world. Their immense fortunes and longevity means they can undertake radical, expensive experiments that smaller outfits simply couldn't sustain.
A good case in point is Walmart and their Advanced Vehicle Experience concept truck. Built earlier this year as a testbed for their fleet efficiency program, it features a 53-foot trailer whose roof and sidewalls are made from single-piece 53-foot-long panels of carbon fiber. This confers a weight savings of some 4,000 pounds, meaning it can carry an extra 4,000 in cargo to burn the same amount of fuel, or carry the same weight of cargo as before and save a tremendous amount of fuel.
Creating carbon fiber panels of that length is fiendishly expensive, and a company would have to ship a lot of cargo indeed before they'd make their money back on fuel costs. In other words, you'd need a Walmart to do something like this. With 6,000 trucks crawling our continent and logging millions of miles, the overall, long-term impact would be substantial.
Just over a decade ago came a great innovation in a staple design material. The kind you'll come into contact with during your first year at design school. And that is an air-cured, hand-formed rubber also known as Sugru - which is the Gaellic name for "play." It feels like modeling clay and you can mold it into any shape. We covered it when it first launched. After curing it is what you'd expect from a rubber-like material, flexible, grippy, sticky and waterproof. And it's very practical. It can repair everything from toasters to computer cables. And withstand extremes from the dishwasher to the Arctic ocean (temperature ranges from -50 to 180 degrees Celcius.) Check out all the creative uses featured on the sugru site site. It's pretty endless.
Its sticking power is best shown when it bonds to ABS (see video below.) It's sold in three, five and eight single use packs, in primary colors, or black and white. But it's going to stick to a lot: Aluminum, steel, ceramics, glass, wood, many plastics, leather, silicone, butyl rubber, and sugru itself. It is an electric insulator, so that is why you can safely use it to repair electrical cords under 24 volts. You typically have about 30 minutes to work with sugru once it is removed from its packaging and the cure time is 24 hours (per 3-5mm depth.) The cured material is resistant to UV light, oxidation, fire and water.
When it comes to smartphones, thin is in. But it should be of interest to product designers that as ubiquitous as these skinny devices are becoming—Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses over the weekend, for chrissakes—there really are some basic design problems with smartphones that haven't been totally covered.
Here's what's been in the news: Responding to reports that the iPhone 6 Plus can be bent out of shape when carried in a pants pocket—even a front pocket—while sitting, Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy posted a video of his iPhone 6 Plus Bend Test. The results weren't pretty, as the image atop this entry attests, and his video quickly racked up millions of hits.
Cult of Mac, however, was quick to point out that this structural flaw is not new to the iPhone 6 Plus, nor Apple in particular. In CoM's "The Shocking History of Bent Smartphones," they round up examples across manufacturers and models:
So here's the issue: We either want thin phones with large screens, or designers are pushing them on us, yet the slimness combined with broadness (i.e. increased leverage) has a major drawback for a subset of users. In your opinion, where does the fix lie—on the design side, or the user side?
As the Nazis occupied France and commandeered production at the Citröen factory, Citröen's design team was still secretly working on their own projects. One of those was the iconic 2CV economy car. Another was an equally quirky-looking but very different sort of vehicle called the Type H. And interestingly enough, one of its key design elements was inspired by the aircraft used by the Germans occupying France.
Like the 2CV, the Type H was meant to do more with less. But whereas the 2CV was meant to haul people and their farm goods, The Type H would be its urban counterpart, a proper delivery van. It would be a direct successor to their TUB and TUC delivery vehicles, whose production had been killed for want of raw materials during the war. Here's what that pre-war TUB looked like, by the way:
As you can see, a van requires a lot more surface area than the 2CV. This raised the problem of how to stiffen the van's structure while using materials as economically as possible. The answer was flying above Citröen's heads and landing at airfields in occupied France:
If you are a fresh industrial design student, you'll most likely have your first try at 3D printing this semester or this year. And while a lot of focus has been on the printers themselves, it's equally important and fascinating to look at the materials we can use.
There are surprisingly few limitations placed on the kinds of materials used to print 3D objects. As additive manufacturing develops into a widespread practice it's important to focus on the potential of the ingredients used. Here's a rundown of the popular and the strange.
The most commonly used materials today are the thermoplastics (polymers.) Typically the polymers are in the form of filament made from resins.
- Acrylonitile butadiene styrene (ABS) also known as lego plastic, is perhaps one of the most commonly used plastics in 3D printing.
- Polylactic acid (PLA) has the flexibility to be hard or soft and is starting to gain popularity. There is also a soft form of PLA that is rubbery and flexible.
- Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is a dissolvable material that is used as a support, that then gets washed away once the object is created.
- Polycarbonate requires high-temperature nozzle design and is in the proof-of-concept stage.
Plastics can be mixed with carbon fiber to make them stronger without adding weight.
There are also several metals that can be used for additive manufacturing:
Several types of processes work with metals and metal alloys. These are direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), electron-beam melting, selective laser melting (SLM). SLM can worth with plastics, ceramics abut also metal powders, and can produce metal objects that have strikingly similar properties as those of traditionally manufactured metals. (We previously posted videos of each of the methods listed above.)
If you're an industrial design student, now that school is back in swing you've probably got your hands on some foamcore or blue foam. Did you ever ask yourself what that stuff really is?
Let's start with the first one. The original foamcore was created and marketed in 1957 by the Monsanto Company. (Yes, that Monsanto, the leader in the genetically modified seed industry.) Their original brand name for the material was: Fome-Cor.
Foamcore, aka foamboard, is lightweight, easily cut, and surprisingly strong. In it's most basic form you'll find three layers: An inner layer of polystyrene foam, bookended by two sheets of clavcoated paper or simply kraft paper. The surface paper is slightly acidic but you can find acid-free versions for archival photography.
Junior and Senior ID majors already know this, but for you sophomores or first-year grads: One must be careful if using glue or paint with foamcore. Because glues, especially superglues, and paint cannot adhere to foam, it will actually melt and dissolve it. What you need to use are spray adhesives like 3M's Super77 or Loctite. Some might try using hot glue but do so with caution, as the heat can warp the board.
For those of you about to enter Industrial Design programs, you'll find epoxy resins are a staple studio adhesive. They're part of the class of super adhesives called structural or engineering adhesives, being a vital part of aircraft construction or on the smaller-scale, furniture design (see the wood fossil table below, made by Studio Nucleo), or even used in root canals, to bind the gutta-percha to the tooth.
Epoxy resins react with what are called polyfunctional amines, acids as well as phenols and alcohols - all commonly known as hardeners or curatives. Once mixed such epoxies transform from a liquid to a solid and become very strong, withstand high temperatures and have high chemical resistance. They are called thermosetting resins, because they cure by internally generating heat.
The important thing to note when one is mixing epoxy resins is the epoxide number which represents the amount of epoxide in 1 kg of resin. This number is used to measure how much hardener you'll need to cure the epoxy. However, the mix ratio can vary by as much as 10 times, from 10:1 to 1:1. Some epoxy resin / hardener combos will cure at room temperature but most need a lot of heat, from 150° C and up to 200° C. If the resin is not heated properly the material will lose its super adhesive properties.
Wind energy is gaining support in the U.S., both on ground and in the ocean. And the design specs for wind turbines are getting pretty sophisticated as they require exact performance requirements, including super lightweight material and a potential to operate for decades without maintenance. Meanwhile, the turbines are becoming longer, measuring as much as 75 meters, close to the wingspan of an Airbus jet. Most of the turbines in North America and Europe are made of balsa wood: It's durable, dense and yet lightweight... but it's expensive. So there is a new solution coming from materials scientists at Harvard.
Balsa's cellular structure has high strength per volume of space, as its cell walls carry the weight, but it has a lot of empty space which makes it extraordinarily lightweight. This new material is engineered with the same design (see photo above), so it can mimic the best qualities of balsa. But it is made from epoxy-based thermosetting resins and it's fabricated with 3D printers, which provide unprecedented precision.
Check out how they did it in the video here:
Typically 3D printing uses thermoplastics and resins, but these are not usually used in any sort of engineering solutions. This new material—based in epoxies—opens up another channel for 3D printing that has structural applications.
Don't let the bland name of Scottish start-up Design LED Products fool you. At last year's Lux Live 2013 lighting exhibition, DLP showed off the flexible resin-based LED tile you see above, considered to be a potential game-changer in lighting design. The tiles are flexible, modular, inexpensive, highly efficient (roughly 90%), can emit light on one or both sides, and "can be produced in any shape or size up to 1m, offering up to 20,000 lumen per square meter," according to the press release. They also do not require external "thermal management," i.e. bulky heat sinks.
Well, someone noticed, and that someone was IKEA. Today it was reported that Ikea's GreenTech venture capital division plunked down an undisclosed sum to invest in the company, giving them access to the light tiles for their presumed inclusion in future product designs. "The tiles are unique as they are extremely thin, flexible and low cost and can be seamlessly joined together in exciting new designs," IKEA said in a statement. "The partnership is a clear strategic fit for IKEA and our goal to make living sustainably affordable and attractive for millions of people."
While you can still buy halogens and CFLs at IKEA today, by the way, the company is reportedly planning to switch exclusively to LEDs by September of 2015.
Anyone want to take a guess at what they'll be designing with these? Kitchen wall cabinets with these tiles on the undersides seem like the obvious choice, but those would be flat; I'm most curious to see how they'd exploit the curvability of the technology.
One of the stranger (and little known) facts of nature is that our living cells are electric, or can carry electricity. Every thought, feeling and movement we have comes from an electric spark. And we find this in complicated beings like us, as well as in the most basic forms of bacteria. But there is something that bacteria can do that no other living thing on Earth can: Consume pure electricity for their own energy. Sounds Frankensteinian but it's real.
Scientists have been luring all sorts of bacteria deep in rocks and mud with electric juice. And they've found that these creatures are eating and then excreting electrons. Now this isn't all that crazy, considering that, as I mentioned, we are made of electric pulses. And this process is fueled by food (specifically ATP, the molecule that provides storage for energy.) Electrons can and are taken from every food we eat, and they are carried by molecules throughout our bodies—this is a necessary process for life.
The difference and extraordinary thing about bacteria is that they don't need the "food" middleman. They consume pure electricity! Just like our (non-living) laptop plugged into the wall. (Think of this next time we consider how far removed we think we are from robotic devices.)
But what are the practical implications for innovative designers? Scientists have been able to grow all kinds of what they are calling "electricity breathers" in areas where you might not find other life forms. Researchers are saying this opens up a previously unknown biosphere. A biosphere of very useful, self-powered helpers.
Sometimes inspiration for how to use a material can come from the natural world. Case in point: The beauty of Utah's arches like the Rainbow Bridge above. A recent study out of Charles University in the Czech Republic breaks down how such sculptures form—and, in doing so, allows us to see potential for our own design and creativity.
The natural occurring arches and narrow stone towers do not require a complicated mix of materials or the natural variables involved in geology or weather. All we need is some sandstone and stress.
Stop the Green Dream presses. Julian Melchiorri has built a leaf that absorbs CO2 and sunlight and produces oxygen. Rather than just growing a plant like most of us who want leaves in our lives, Melchiorri's work got positively semi-scientific. By breaking down the tough proteins in silk, and plucking out useful chloroplasts from plant matter, the end product "lives" on light and water, and produces what we breathe. Produced as a part of the Royal College of Art course "Innovation Design Engineering," the Silk Leaf project was conceived as a way to manage emissions and neutralize environmental impact with a space efficient, "biological" material.
On Friday, July 25, the Scottish Ecological Design Association launched the latest issue of their magazine, which is published two to three times a year, at Greek Thomson's Caledonia Road Church in Glasgow. Local leaders in sustainable design presented their work, from MakLab (a turbo-charged version of your neighborhood fab lab) to the Glasgow Wooden Bike Project and GalGael Trust's covetable reclaimed lumber, among other noteworthy projects.
First up was Oliver Gooddard's "Let it Bee." His beehive and integrated apiary made of sustainable timber ensures that honey stores are kept in sanitary condition by segregating the queen's chambers from those of the worker bees. Based on years of beekeeping experience, Goddard abides by sustainable cultivation practices: Rather than selling all the honey from the bees and feeding them sugar during the winter, they harvest only what they might use and allow the bees to keep the nectar they've worked so hard to create for the long winter months.
Another stunning installation was the dining set "Sexy Legs," a walnut and sycamore ensemble by cabinetmaker David Watson. Each piece is finished with an alternate set of burr walnut or fiddleback sycamore "stockings." From his Clyde-side workshop in central Glasgow, David and his team of skilled craftsmen manufacture high-quality furniture sourced from only certified sustainable forests.
It's 1952 in Cambiago, Italy, and a young man makes a fateful decision not to go into the family farming business. Ernesto Colnago loves racing bicycles, knows how to fix them, and wants to make them rather than tilling the soil. His father responds by grabbing an axe—and cutting down the family's mulberry tree, to turn the lumber into a workbench for Ernesto.
Colnago started selling high-quality custom steel frames in 1954, and in the subsequent decades gained a reputation for designing and building winning racing bikes. By the '70s, Colnago was making super-light steel frames, and in the '80s, used a then-radical top tube with an oval cross-section in a quest for increased stiffness. Then came the materials experimentation: Aluminum, titanium, and finally carbon fiber in a fateful collaboration with Ferrari in the late '80s.
By 1987 they'd produced their first carbon fiber prototype—but it wasn't ready for prime time. "The first fruit of Colnago and Ferrari Engineering's cooperation [was] the Concept bicycle," the company writes, "with carbon fiber tubes, composite three-spoke wheels and a gear system enclosed in the chainrings. The unusual gears [made] it too heavy for production, but the ideas in its frame [informed] all subsequent Colnago carbon fiber bicycles."
They've spent the years since working it out, and just this month they've updated their flagship bike. The Colnago C60 is hand-manufactured with the same process of "lugged" construction as its predecessor C59. Under this technique, the tubes that Colnago has formed from Japanese-made carbon fiber can be cut to specific lengths and inserted into a range of different lugs, or hubs if you will. This allows relatively quick and easy customization. (The alternative is to mold the frame in one piece, which would require a new, expensive mold for each variation in geometry.)
Watching the bike come together, it almost resembles a plumber cleaning and pasting PVC pipes together:
Like many designspotters, we first took note of Jólan Van der Wiel at the Transnatural exhibition in Milan in 2012, one of two exhibitions that included his "Gravity Stools" (we saw him in Ventura Lambrate as well). He's been busy since then, transposing his magnetic modus operandi to couture—with fellow Amsterdammer/futurist Iris van Herpen, of course— and now, with a project called "Architecture Meets Magnetism," into ceramics.
By developing a formula for clay slip with iron fillings, the Gerrit Rietveld Academy grad (and now teacher) arrived at a material that he calls 'dragonstone.' Wired's Liz Stinson likens them to Tim Burton machinations, but I'm seeing some Giger-worthy gnarliness in the extruded stalagmite carapaces. The designer, for his part, was inpsired by Gaudí: In Dezeen, van der Wiel expresses admiration for the Spanish architect's use of "gravity to calculate the final shape of [La Sagrada Familia]." "I thought, 'What if he had to power the turn off the gravitational field for a while?' Then he could have made the building straight up."
The project is part of ongoing research into the applications of magnetic forces, which Van der Wiel conducted at the European Ceramic Workcentre in Den Bosch.
After discovering that clay could be shaped by magnetism, he is now exploring applications for the technique in architecture.
"The idea of creating buildings with magnetic field has always fascinated me," said Van der Wiel. "I'm drawn to the idea that the force would make the final design of the building—architects would only have to think about the rough shape and a natural force would do the rest."
"This would create a totally different architectural field," he added. "These are the very first models showing how future buildings and objects could look when they are shaped by natural forces."
Something you see a lot of in New York is workers assembling or disassembling a metal scaffold, but you almost never see them made out of new-looking pipes. The banged-up metal is a testament to how much use they see over their lifetimes. In contrast, you'll also see workers assembling and disassembling temporary facades out of 2x4s and CDX, but the difference is, the wood all goes into a garbage dumpster at the end, riddled as they are with screws and screw holes. They don't live to see another day, unlike the metal scaffolding.
Beijing-based architecture firm Penda has made a similar observation by looking at Native American tipis. When it's time to move on, the nomadic owners untied the rope bindings for the pole structure, bundled it together for transport, then put it up somewhere else. The lack of penetrating fasteners means the poles can be re-used indefinitely.
Thus Penda's "One With the Birds" project, which takes the local-to-China material of bamboo and binds it together with rope in a triangular matrix pattern that can then be built out.
If I had to guess, I'd say that a smooth surface is better than a rough one for cutting wind resistance. And I'd be wrong. There's a reason golf balls have dimples: The dimples decrease the drag caused by wind, by a significant amount. In the middle ages Dutch men used to hit spherical pebbles with a stick to play what became golf. Later in the 1600s they started using wooden balls. And it was in the late 1800s when players noticed that that beaten up balls went further than the smoother, newer versions.
Now researchers have created a material that—when triggered by wind—can automatically morph into a dimpled surface similar to that of a golf ball. It sort of also resembles pruning of finger tips after soaking in water (in fact, the inspiration for this new material came from dried prunes.) See the video below from the MIT team led by Pedro Reis, who developed the "Smorph" (Smart Morphable Surface).
The Smorph operates on fairly basic mechanics. In fact, the useful function comes from a common mechanical failure that most engineers need to prevent at all costs: Buckling. The prototype is a hollow silicon ball covered in a thin and stiff layer of polystyrene. When the pressure lowers within the hollow ball the exterior automatically shrinks, and this creates the dimples. The key thing is to have a pattern of dimples—and not something random.
There are at least two items in my apartment that I can count on including in my will someday and I'd bet the same goes for most people if they take a stock of their most prized possessions. Alien & Monkey express the opposite sentiment with a handful of their ephemeral designs. As writer/illustrator Daishu Ma and industrial designer Marc Nicolau explain on their website, "These products can be used for a long period of time and, due to the elements, crumble back to sand dust at the end of its life cycle." Making sand stick together in mind-bending ways is nothing new. We're just accustomed to seeing it in some form of sand art or architecture—not necessarily as functioning products.
Most notably, the Barcelona-based design duo has introduced a crumbling sand package design that has been making waves on the blogosphere. Tiny objects can be hidden within the solid walls of the package and are supported by loose sand inside of the chamber. A cut across the object directs the opener to the best spot to crack open the brick.
Industrial designer and professor Lance Gordon Rake previously shared the story behind the Semester bamboo bicycle, developed with Pamela Dorr and various collaborators in Hale County, Alabama. Now, less than a year later, HERObike is pleased to present its second project on Kickstarter, the Beacon Alley Skateboard, which represents Rake's further research into bamboo as a versatile, renewable raw material for the socially conscious organization. Once again, he was willing to share the story and process behind the project.
Since the beginning, I have been working with John Bielenberg at Future Partners and the graphic design partnership Public Library to develop the products and the business. Ultimately, all we ever wanted to do was create some nice jobs making well-designed products using the resources and people of rural Alabama. The bamboo was there. Traditional craft skills were there. We used design to put these things together in a way that could make a sustainable small enterprise that might serve as a model for developing rural communities all over the world.
The MakeLab shop in Greensboro Alabama has become a kind of research center for bamboo fiber composites. Many of the materials that are in a Semester bike—bamboo, fiberglass, carbon fiber—are also in a Beacon Alley Skateboard. The skateboard is a product with a very demanding user group who expect incredibly high performance at a fair price. The Semester bike is in a demanding, competitive category as well. And if your product doesn't look good, it's a non-starter.
The past 11 months have been a bit crazy: We had a successful Kickstarter campaign that finished last August and we managed to deliver all 45 bikes and frames by our promised date in February. Since then, our little shop has been building about ten Semesters per month, in addition to our standard "Gilligan" bamboo bike and our Gilligan kits for the DIY crowd. We are developing international markets for Semester—we've already shipped them to seven countries and this seems to be an area of rapid expansion. Right now, I am working on ways to dramatically lower costs so we can make a bike that delivers the look and ride quality of bamboo for less than half of the current price.