Have you ever wandered the aisles of a big box store searching for a particular something, a simple utilitarian household object that shouldn’t be hard to find (soap dispensers come to my mind for some reason)? And have you ever been amazed at the lack of variety on those shelves and secretly wished you could design and produce your own household object? Well then, meet Olivier Van Herpt (Design Academy Eindhoven, 2015), the Dutch industrial designer whose work examines the typical top down relationship between manufacturer and consumer using 3D printing.
3D printing has been used to produce widgets and gadgets for all sorts of applications for a number of years, everything from plastic auto parts to surgically implanted replacement parts in the human body. The evolution of this ‘additive manufacturing’ technology can be traced to the early 1980’s and even further (the 1900’s!) and involves a material, guided by a computer added onto itself to create a component. Van Herpt wanted to test the limits of a typical desktop 3D printer to produce his own functional, large scale piece of ceramics and began to experiment.
Initially he wasn’t content with the results. The printer could only produce small objects and these weren’t heat resistant or food safe. So he adapted the machine by designing and making his own clay extruder and experimented with different types of clay mixed with water. Adding water would’ve made sense to me because the process itself is about the extrusion of a material from a nozzle onto a horizontal plane. I’d have assumed that a diluted material would flow better than a dense one. But it didn’t work (I’d have given up right there). Continuing to work on the problem his eureka moment occurred 2 years later when he redesigned the extruder and used hard clay that dripped from the nozzle instead of being expelled in the conventional cord-like fashion and this allowed him to make larger pieces with more surface definition as well as random human-like imperfections. So amazing!
If that’s not enough amazingness for you, then consider that his adaptations to 3D printer technology are open source on the ol’ internet which means we can all print ourselves some gorgeous ceramics and I may one day make my own soap dispenser.
Now feast your eyes on these and tell me whether or not Van Herpt has redesigned mass production for the better. You can also find more about him and his ongoing collaborative explorations into the manufacturing process here. Or check out his Instagram page here.