Created as a collaboration between Manuel Jiménez Garcia + Gilles Retsin (UCL Design Computation Lab), Nagami Design, and Vicente Soler, ‘Voxel Chair’ is a first prototype designed using a new design software specifically developed for robotic 3D-Printing. Rather than using pre-defined forms and then “slicing” these it into toolpaths or triangular patterns, this software allows to design and control thousands of line-fragments.
“Normally when you design an object to 3D print, you would first model a mesh-representation of the object in one software, and then slice it into layers or triangular toolpaths in another software. These type of geometries are the easiest to control, and that’s why we see them now so often. We turned the process upside down : the software allows to design a series of toolpath patterns, and then define the way how they combine together into an object, that consists of one continuous line which can then be extruded by the robot” – Manuel Jiménez Garcia
This approach allows to make objects that are much more functional and intricate than in normal 3D-Prints. For example, the parts of the chair that need to be very strong are printed with very dense patterns, the parts where you sit have patterns that are more flexible and soft. The method makes techniques such as Meta-materials and Topological Optimisation for the first time available for large-scale objects.
“This approach is not only more functional in terms of performance, but it also offers designers opportunities to really work directly with incredible amounts of data. Instead of designing the form of the chair, you design the behaviours and properties of the material directly” – Manuel Jiménez Garcia & Gilles Retsin
Technically, the software is based on voxels, or 3-dimensional pixels, a technology which comes from the medical imaging industry. With traditional design software, designers define objects through modelling surfaces, but they are never able to design the actual volume or inside. Using Voxels, this new design software allows designers to make decisions about every part of the object.
As a test-case to demonstrate the properties of the software, the designers developed Voxel Chair 1.0, which is based on the shape of a Panton chair. After doing a structural analysis, 2.36 km of toolpath is assembled into one continuous line. The chair was printed with a pellet-extruder, an extruder which uses raw plastic particles rather than filament. The plastic is PLA, a non toxic, biodegradable plastic from renewable resources such as corn-starch. The chair uses a transparent PLA, mixed with cyan-colored particles, which results in a color gradient. It was designed in London, and then printed in Avila, Spain at robotic manufacturing company Nagami.
“ This may look like a panton chair, but it’s actually completely different – the Panton chair was a pure surface, optimised to mould. This chair is the opposite : a cloud-like volume, optimised for robotic extrusion” “ We have used the panton chair as a test case in all our research at the Bartlett Design Computation Lab, as it is so iconic and has a challenging cantilever – geometry” – Manuel Jiménez Garcia & Gilles Retsin
The Voxel Chair 1.0 was developed for the exhibition “Imprimer Le Monde” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and recently became part of the museum’s permanent collection. The software is based on research lead by Manuel Jiménez García and Gilles Retsin at the Bartlett School of Architecture, Design Computation Lab and is currently still in a development stage, and will be presented at the 2017 ACADIA conference at MIT. The Voxel Chair 1.0 is a collaborative project with the contribution by Nagami Design and Vicente Soler (the ‘robots” plugin for grasshopper).