The word on the street is that 3D printing is the next industrial revolution. And as a reader of this blog you may already understand how additive manufacturing optimizes advanced prototyping, marketing research and limited production runs. But what about mass production? What about something that the manufacturing world considers a bit of a an oxymoron: affordable, mass customization? Is it really possible or practical to use 3D printing for such purposes?
Yes. Actually, well-known industry leaders are already integrating additive manufacturing into their business operations to mass produce some of their product. Our ‘Spotlight on Industry’ will occasionally feature some of these companies and showcase the rewards they are reaping from mass production using 3D printing. You just might be amazed again by the scope of application of this technology. These companies are not using additive manufacturing only for internal or industrial components that are hidden away from sight. Some companies — such as our first case study, IKEA — are using additive manufacturing for visually aesthetic and truly unique product designs.
CASE STUDY – IKEA
In 2018, Swedish furniture giant IKEA introduced its first ever 3D printed objects.
IKEA decided to select 3D printing as a manufacturing solution for one of its newest products: a mesh hand from the OMEDELBAR collection. The exact production quantity is unknown, but it seems clear that it is big enough to be considered mass production — this is IKEA, after all. The 3D printing technology of choice for IKEA is SLS, which enables the production of multiple OMEDELNAR mesh hands at once on a single machine.
Jawak Pawlak of IKEA explains,
“As one of the first major brands, IKEA will be using 3D printing in furnishing mass production. I am really proud of the project. It demonstrates how IKEA, being an innovative company, is always on the search for new ways of doing things and explore the latest technology to do so”
“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. 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,”
IKEA’s OMEDELBAR collection was created in a collaboration with designer Bea Åkerlund, and the 3D printed mesh hand is part of that collection. It is a wall decor item and can be used as a decorative hanger for jewelry and other light items. Why did IKEA go down the 3D printing route? Well, it was certainly in keeping with IKEA’s culture of innovation, but there’s also a very practical reason. Interestingly, the project was actually scrapped a few times. The IKEA design team loved the hand idea but the complex mesh design seemed terribly challenging to affordably produce. Traditional techniques like injection molding were economically unfeasible. But once IKEA identified 3D printing as the mode of production, the designers had much more freedom and the hand design came to life.
Well not literally, but you know what we mean.
Additive manufacturing scores again! A win for college dorms everywhere — and a huge win for IKEA.