3D printing may transform flat-pack furniture

If, like most of us, you’ve vowed never again to buy furniture that requires the dreaded task of self-assembly, then all that might be about to change.

A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the US state of Pennsylvania has created a 3D printing method that can help transform flat, plastic objects into fixed shapes. What does that mean for you? You may never have to wrangle with that dreaded Allen key while assembling furniture again.

Using a budget 3D printer, the team produced a range of origami-like structures that, with the application of heat, fold themselves into predetermined shapes, such as a boat, rose and even a bunny.

chair folding 3D printing

A flat, plastic shape is transformed into a chair when heat is applied.

Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, explained in a press release that these self-folding plastic objects represent the first step towards products such as flat-pack furniture that assume their final shapes with the help of a heat gun.

“Self-folding materials are quicker and cheaper to produce than solid 3D objects, making it possible to replace noncritical parts or produce prototypes using structures that approximate the solid objects. Moulds for boat hulls and other fibreglass products might be inexpensively produced using these materials,” the team explains.

Related3D-printed home costs $4000 and takes 24 hours to build

The genius system is all achieved by inputting a code into a standard 3D printer.

Using precision timing the team combines warp-prone plastics with rubber-like materials that are then printed into the form of flat, hard plastic objects.

When heat is applied the rubber parts expand and the folding process is triggered. Essentially the product self inflates during the heating process to form a full 3D object.

The key is all in the timing of the printing, Lining explains, which is controlled by the printer.

Incredibly the team produced their own code to input into a standard 3D printer to achieve this masterful result.

boat 3D printing technology

A boat emerges out of a flat, plastic 3D printed shape.

“We believe the general algorithm and existing material systems should enable us to eventually make large, strong self-folding objects, such as chairs, boats or even satellites,” says Jianzhe Gu, a HCII research intern.

While we’re barely grasping the genius behind this system, we do love anything that will give us back our Sunday afternoons trying to get that blasted flat-pack looking like it did in the store.

All images supplied by Morphingmatter.cs.cmu.edu

Originally published as 3D printing may transform flat-pack furniture by Erinna Giblin. Author at realestate.com.au.