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Top 3D printing designers discuss their approach to DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing)

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While 3D printing has now been around for over thirty years, and some 3D printing designers have been exploring the technology since then, until recently, there was no clear-cut approach to fully exploiting the technology’s potential for near-limitless geometries. The recent rise in the adoption of the acronym DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) – which collects under its umbrella a plethora of terms such as parametric and generative design, topology optimization, lattice structures and biomimicry – is an indication that these ideas are making their way into the creative collective consciousness.

As manufacturing firms and their engineers fully realize the need to create more intricate, parametric and generative shapes in everyday objects, in order to reduce weight and material consumption, designers and artists are tasked with pushing the boundaries of this approach to product development. Over the past few years, 3DPBM has had the opportunity to work with some of the most experienced designers who have embraced AM technologies from many different technological angles.

For this month’s Industry Focus, coinciding with Milan’s Design Fair (Salone del Mobile), we contacted some of these designers to learn which AM technologies and software tools they use to explore new approaches to DfAM. Whilst their answers vary, a significant preference for powder bed fusion technologies and Rhinoceros software does emerge, and they all confirm the will and effort to head toward the use of DfAM and AM to create optimized, finished, end-use products.

Janne Kyttanen (WTFVC) who was one of the first to imagine consumer 3D printing, is now working on a new process – 3DTi – to enable fast AM production. Arturo Tedeschi’s (A>T) – a leader in generative design and DfAM innovation – is presenting custom 3D printed earphones during Milan Design Week. Ronal Rael (Emerging Objects) continues to explore new materials – including ceramics – and DfAM through binder jetting and paste extrusion technologies. Other designers we contacted with but were not able to include in this interview for deadline constraints include Joris Laarman of MX3D and Daniele Cevola of Ocore, who are currently working on huge DfAM projects such as a 3D printed bridge (3D printed by laser metal deposition) and a full size sailing boat 3D printed by robotic extrusion of composite materials. There are many more in the following article whose experience can shed new light on the benefits of DfAM, so read on!

3D printing design expert Arturo Tedeschi

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I basically work in the field of computational design and algorithmic modeling. Since the beginning of my career, 3D printing was the natural choice to transform the complexity of digital explorations into real objects. My first project that used additive manufacturing was the NU:S shoes — which was one of the first 3D printed shoe-prototypes — and involved computational designers, digital manufacturers and a fashion designer.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“My work and research are focused on complex geometries. AM is my favourite method for prototyping and it helps me to predict the actual shape when a digital model is not accurate enough to describe the geometry of a component, a product or a detail. For small objects, it can also be a valid alternative to other fabrication methods. I’m particularly excited by the novel processes being developed for 3D printing with metallic material (including precious ones).”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“SLS, without a doubt. I need accuracy and at the same time the possibility to create intricate shapes that would be tricky to get with other methods.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“My modelling tools are Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, I think they are an unrivalled platform for exploration and optimization of freeform geometries.” Arturo Tedeschi Ross Lovegrove Ilabo

5. A>T Studios' latest projects

“IAR is a production system for 3D printed-customized earphones. With a 3D scan of the human auricle, IAR is able to guarantee a perfect fit. IAR is the professional result of a team that includes Digital Fabrication technicians, computational designers and audiology experts. The project will be officially presented at the Milan Design Week 2018”

Arturo Tedeschi IAR

3D printing design expert Janne Kyttanen

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I didn’t. It got me.

When I was a design student, we had to pick what we wanted to do for our final exam. That was 1999. Somebody was designing a chair, somebody was designing a lamp etc. I figured it was my last year, so I wanted to create something a bit more impactful. I decided to challenge global logistics instead.
My key question was if we could start from scratch, how would we make things so that not everything got dumped back into the oceans after their use? I created an augmented reality platform, fused with 3D printing.

All tactile products would be produced in a closed-loop ecosystem in the future with 3D printers and everything nontactile was left in an augmented reality environment. Say, do you really need to own a painting, if you never need to touch it? Isn’t an AR painting good enough in the future? The rest is history…”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“It used to. It doesn’t anymore… Well… There is a somewhat pause on this in my brain. I have been very frustrated with the speed of development with the tech. I used to spend a lot of time creating very expensive and complex things slowly, whilst the market really wants cheap and simple things fast. 3D printing still has a long way to go. No doubt it will get there, but for the last couple of years, I have been more excited about utilizing 3D printing as a toolmaker rather than a direct means to an end. That has been the fundament of our new tech 3DTi.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“I am working with the Lisa benchtop SLS system from Sinterit at the moment. It proved to be an ideal fit in combination with 3DTi tech at the moment. Cheap, fast, sexy and reliable.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“I am still mainly a 3ds Max user, but lately more and more I am working in VR. The new tools are amazing and it will finally give a paradigm shift for generating 3D content. The rest is still basically still running on kernels create a quarter-century ago.”

5. WTFVC's latest projects

What the Future’s (WTFVC) first startup – Pixsweet – developed an entirely new way of serially manufacturing custom products through AM. Kyttanen called it 3DTi: 3D Thermo-injection.

Launched in 2016, Pixsweet was started as the pilot to test the-first-of-its kind 3D thermo-injection (3DTi) technology; an autonomous 3D manufacturing technology which enables translation of an image directly into a packaged 3D product.

3D printing design expert Ronald Rael

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“Virginia and I studied at Columbia University in the late 1990’s at a time when digital technologies were influencing the way architecture was being designed. Some of the professors there were experimenting with 3D printing and we were exposed to it in graduate school. But it really it began after researching traditional earthen construction methods for a number of years and thinking about how 3D printing can be used with clay construction. Wanting to experiment with this concept, we embarked on 3D printing clay back in 2010 and that was the beginning of Emerging Objects.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“We don’t think about it as an ideal production method for our work. We see it as a fascinating production method. The work is a byproduct of our fascination with the method. Our interests in materials have allowed us to challenge the production method, and transform to generate new possibilities.

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“Binderjet is slowly becoming extinct. The technology really hasn’t advanced much in 30 years, but it remains our favorite because of its ability to allow for an ever-expanding range of material possibilities. Paste extrusion is also a favorite, particularly for clay, but also for any paste material one could imagine.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“Our software of choice for 3D modeling is MODO. Meshmixer is a great program as well for quick fixes on 3D printable meshes. Lately, we’ve been experimenting with developing our own G-code using Grasshopper.”

5. Emerging Objects' latest projects

Emerging Object’s new book, Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing, presents the studio’s ongoing experimentation with 3D printed architecture from a wide variety of powders, including sawdust, clay, cement, rubber, concrete, salt, and even coffee grounds, opening an entire realm of material, phenomenological, and ecological possibilities to designers.

Other recent EO projects include a 3D printed Cabin, a collaboration with 3D Potter, and a series produced with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum in Mumbai.

3D printing design experts MHOX

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“Having a background in architecture and engineering, we started using 3D printing to build architectural models and prototypes. We realized the technology worked great in combination with our computational design approach, which most of the times involves complex, ever-changing morphologies, and got interested to explore its potential as a fabrication technology of actual products.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“Thanks to generative design methods it is possible to design objects adapted to different conditions, like datasets, personal anatomies or performances. This flexibility at the design level requires efficient fabrication strategies that allow the production of unique objects, sometimes with very complex shapes. 3D printing is really efficient in such cases.”

MHOX superabundance

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“In most of our projects we use SLS because it allows the highest morphological freedom. It allows us to produce the extremely complex shapes required in most of our works without further engineering for fabrication. It is maybe not the most scalable technology, because of the size limits and costs involved, but the higher quality of materials allows the fabrication of actual products rather than prototypes.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“We use different software depending on specific needs. When we create a completely customized tool we use Processing. Other times we control complex workflows with Grasshopper. For other projects, we just use Blender that allows us to easily integrate modelling strategies and specific parametric operations.”

5. MHOX's latest projects

Ongoing projects include:
Generative Orthosis
Carapace Masks

New projects include:
Enea (in collaboration with Shiro Studio)

3D printing design expert Igor Knezevic

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I was, and still am, doing a lot of CG and VFX (visual effects) for films and TV. I also studied architecture and worked in several architectural offices both in Europe and the USA as a 3D concept designer. This led me to use 3D CAD tools really early on. And later on I was exposed to 3D printing as an option for creating architectural models by using SLA resin printing. That’s how it started.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“Freedom of forming and shaping. And you can make almost any imaginable form. It is very good for creating props and objects to be used in film productions. I am also using it to make my own line of lighting designs and jewelry. There are 3D forms that are only possible to make via 3D printing. Such forms are the most fun for me to work with.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“I mostly used SLS with nylon materials because it gives me the most freedom for creating 3D forms. And nylon has some amazing material properties and is quite durable. I do use metal printing occasionally, as well as wax printing for creating green parts for lost-wax casting in silver or gold.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“Mostly 3ds Max using polygonal workflow and subdivision modeling. I also use Rhino and Grasshopper for parametric workflow for some projects and then ZBrush and an app called 3DCoat which is voxel-based.

At the end of the work, I sometimes put my geometry through Netfabb or Meshlab for cleaning it up. However, lately, I am really intrigued by the possibilities of using VR tools for modeling and designing. VR is a much more natural tool for creating in 3D.”

3D printing design expert Joshua Harker

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I worked in the product design and development industry for about 20 years, including 10 years as founder and president of a boutique development firm. 3D printing started to be commonly used in the industry in the early 90s. Right away I realized it would be useful to me as an artist but the associated software, materials, and machine technologies were not yet able to build the geometries I was envisioning. It would be 20 years before it all matured enough that I was able to create my art with it.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“Many of my pieces (Tangle series specifically) have intricate interweaving geometries that cannot be made any other way. There is no other medium that allows me to create these complex organic knots with varying thicknesses throughout. Furthermore, even if I was able to create one of these there would be no way to reproduce it. Powder-based 3D printing allows me to build these pieces without the addition of rigid support structures. 3D printing technologies that require additional support features do not work because of the inordinate amount of work required to remove them.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“I typically work with SLS and other powder binding processes. As I stated previously, these methods allow me to build these pieces without the addition of rigid support structures. Also, the material properties provide relative rigidity and durability allowing for self-supporting geometries.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“I use a variety of software depending on the project and I will often use multiple programs in tandem. Some of the programs I commonly work with are Blender, FreeCAD, Meshlab, Zbrush, Solidworks, and 3ds Max.”

3D printing design expert Alessando Zambelli

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“Thanks to an Italian company, for years specialized in 3D printing, that required me to design a lamp. Afillia, my first project using 3D printing serial production, was born this way.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“I love playing with contrasts, and AM allows me to create complex shapes that can be matched with traditional technologies and materials to create interesting combinations. Moreover, the immediacy of production and the possibility of solving many complexities quickly.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“Now I’m working with a FFF printer, I like it for the important dimensions that I can achieve, but I appreciate all types of 3D printing, depending on the project I want to develop.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“Rhinoceros is fantastic for its simplicity and immediacy. Combined with Grassopher for parametric workflow, Rhino is unmatchable for the possibilities it offers. But I am not an expert modeler, I often limit myself to think about design solutions and I ask for help from those who know more than I about the software.”

5. Alessandro Zambelli's latest projects

“The last work in order of time is MACROCOSMOS a collection of objects/vases that takes inspiration from the world of Sci-Fi.”

3D printing design expert Xavier Tuto


1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“In short, I am a multidisciplinary designer, and after several years in multiple design areas and the co-founder of KXdesigners, in 2007, together with my partner Katia R.Glossmann, we started to research in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing, which at that time was still called Rapid Manufacturing.

It all began when we visited the 2007 London Design Festival and we attended at the “Manufacturing Reinvented” conference at the Royal College of Art, with speakers including Dr. Richard Hague and Janne Kyttanen among others. When we came back to Barcelona, we applied to get a research fellowship granted by FAD Barcelona (Fostering Arts and Design), and we succeeded; that’s when we started our way through the AM and 3D printing world. We were lucky that we had the opportunity to learn everything of this disruptive technology from the beginning.

In 2009 we started Growthobjects with Dr. Jordi Bayer, becoming a group with the aim to offer customised design and biomimetic engineering solutions. With the goal of generating creative proposals through Direct Digital Manufacturing, we started providing international consultancy, new strategies and solutions in design and product development.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“In my opinion, the key to the new industrial economy is based on the intensive use of applied creativity to launch innovative products with high added value, with astounding possibilities to revolutionize how we design, develop, produce, market and consume new products.

For that, we have developed our own methodology for a new framework for product development and finding new customized products for niche markets. Now more than ever, product design is linked to the business model, brand identity, market strategy, among other disciplines. And so we face challenges where we need to apply all our creativity and AM possibilities, but sometimes we only need to solve a product for a unique piece or small batches, in both cases, design for AM is the best solution with regards to time, cost, and viability.”

Xavier Tutï GO_flowa
Flowa – 3D printed flowers that will live on forever. A project supported by FABulous, a FI-WARE Accelerator.

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“We create using all the main industrial 3D printing technologies, materials, and post-processes, from photopolymerization, selective sintering, and fusion to lamination and controlled deposition in a wide range of materials.

From the beginning, one of our favorite processes was laser sintering in polyamide, because of the absence of manufacturing restrictions we could apply design freedom and achieve impressive results based on the specific project requirements. We always exploit the potential of each process, understanding its possibilities, and pushing the boundaries from a design point of view and fulfill engineering requirements.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“We started to take Biomimicry as inspiration and it becomes a solution in design and engineering, to recreate forms found in nature and to use natural structures to enable designs to fulfill specific functional requirements. Natural geometries adapted to products are difficult to apply to standard design methods and manufacturing processes. For that, we use parametric and algorithmic software like Grasshopper, among others.”

Xavier Tutï GO_hat
Hat, manufactured by Axis service bureau.

5. Growthobjects' latest work

“Different activity lines, from custom projects and bespoke products to engineering and research, and also knowledge transfer and training.
GO recently created a hat for Axis service bureau, based in France, to express the potentials of the SLS technology through a stunning design that enhances its peculiarities and states its uniqueness. The design won the 2017 5th Singapore International 3D Printing Competition.

In collaboration with Origen Studio, GO has been developing creative web Fabapps for 3D printing unique products, with responsive custom design generation and web-based platform, offering pre-established possibilities for co-designing according to the features of each design.

GO also develop proposals, with the collaboration of AM companies. In collaboration with Mcor Technologies a design was developed that required the development of a new color algorithm and some software improvements for its AM system by the engineers of the company to succeed with the design fabrication.

A research project in progress is the challenge of an efficient AM tool design for plastic injection with complex cooling systems by water or air, by manufactured molds by Leitat Technological Center.

As a professor in Product Design and Engineering at the Elisava School of Design and Engineering in Barcelona since 2007, one of Xavi Tutò’s academic objectives is to provide the skills to improve the customer perceived value for the personalised products, based on a methodology of design work for AM and the definition of business models for the join delivery of products and services.
In the last course, students, Núria Diago and Maria Carrion, created a nose clip for synchronized swimming discipline, Be (in the) water, a piece that adapts specifically to the nose surface of each athlete. They received the second prize at Reshape international competition 2017.

3D printing design expert Riccardo Gatti

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I bought my first 3D printer at the earliest opportunity, two years after starting my design studio. I decided it was useful and necessary to equip the studio with a prototyping machine to be able to verify in the real world what we were designing in the virtual world. Teaching and consulting on 3D modeling for a long time, I wanted also to add this expertise to provide more effective training.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“Production today focuses on small batches and to reduce the investment and the fixed costs due to the market volatility. At the moment I’m using AM technologies mainly for prototyping, and for creating unique pieces in order to verify the design choices like geometries, tolerances and the functioning of the parts. I have the opportunity to make small batches, 5/10 copies, as pre-series of small objects.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“Although sintering technologies, of polymer or metal, allow for high formal freedom and excellent dimensional compliance compared to products made with traditional technologies, I still prefer to create parts using FDM. The first advantage, besides the drastically reduced cost, is the cleanliness of the process.

Thanks to solid filament, it is possible to use this kind of printer even in a closed office space. The printing result is easily cleanable as is waste management. Another advantage of FDM is the growing variety of materials, the extensive availability and it’s easily conserved. The technological limits of FDM printing are easily overcome with careful design, making it the best solution for desktop or office prototyping. While testing the different technologies, I was pleasantly impressed by the Multijet technology, especially with the pieces made using HP machines. “

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“As a designer and trainer I mainly use Rhinoceros. Having the availability of the best AM technologies, which grant maximum expressive and formal freedom, I always have found solid modeling tools, like PTC Creo, rather constricting in terms of formal management.”

3D printing design expert Tiia Vahula

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“IUTOPIA blu, which I run along with Philip H Wilck, aims to give poetry a physical form. The digital models that we are creating are so complex in their nature that there is no quicker and easier way to realize these than by using 3D printing technologies.

For us 3D printing is the ultimate solution to bring our design approach to the real world. 3D printing is a very rapidly developing area, so experimenting with different tolerances and materials has become a natural part of our design practice. Without 3D printing, our digital poetry could not get a physical form.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“On one hand it is definitely the precision of production. Clearly different materials have different tolerances but, in general, it is already possible to create perfectly interlocking and matching elements that when put together form a bigger entity.

On the other hand, it is the variety of materials that are available on the market. You can prototype something by using cheaper materials and once the desired solution is achieved, you can move on to higher quality materials or even precious metals.”

Tiia Vahula 4

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“We have been experimenting with many different AM technologies but mostly use FDM or SLA for quick prototyping purposes. Mostly because it is easy to one the printer and due to that it is possible to reduce the time of production by leaving out the delivery time.

Usually, for higher-quality lightweight products we prefer SLS as the quickest and currently cheapest method with the biggest bounding box. In metal for sure, the LMF has given the most amazing results in surface quality. For large scale clay experiments we use LDM.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“We mostly use programs like Autodesk Maya and Rhinoceros with Grasshopper, T-splines and other plugins such as Evolute. In some cases we also use Zbrush.”

5. UTOPIA blu's latest projects

“A 3D printed clay installation SEEM[N]EST was created for the Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2017. In collaboration with Studio UnSeen and Rachel Armstrong with Experimental Architecture Group in Newcastle University.

Dragon Drone. An experimental 3D printed drone body for Skull’n’drones.

utopia blu drone

3D printed SALT & PEPPA shaker for the METHESIS exhibition during Milan Design week 2016, supported by Sisma and Autodesk.

Spider Dress for Intel on CES 2015. In collaboration with fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht.”

utopia blu anouk

3D printing design expert Dinara Kasko

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“2.5 years ago, I wanted to create my own mould of my own design. So I decided to use 3D printing to print a plastic prototype of my future mould. After the first try I was so impressed with the result that I started using 3D printing on a regular basis”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“Accuracy. The 3D printer prints object very accurately. Also, I can use different filament and produce different shapes of different volume. It lets me print models very quickly, so I can correct something in an instant and reprint these models once again. In my case, any other method just won’t work (for example, I would not be able to make models out of clay so quickly and so accurately).”

Dinara Kasko

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“I use an indirect process: the 3D printer is used to make unique molds that are then combined with food paste materials to manufacturer uniquely shaped cakes based on intricate geometries. While geometry is somewhat limited by the mold, at this moment this is the best possible approach for my designs.”

Dinara Kasko

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“I use Rhinoceros, Grasshopper, 3D Max, Houdini, Archicad, and Cura.”

3D printing design expert Alice Barki

1. How did you get into 3D printing?

“I got into 3D printing through work conducted for both DWS Systems, an Italian stereolithography hardware manufacturer, and Zortrax. I produced several designs that served as the base for both companies’ DfAM capabilities.”

2. What aspects of AM make it an ideal production method for your work?

“As a freelance designer, AM helps me create new projects in a very short time. As a University Professor, I transmit this processing method to my students teaching the relevance of design for AM concepts in tomorrow’s products.”

3. What AM technologies do you prefer and why?

“I mainly use are stereolithography and FDM. I use stereolithography mainly to produce intricate and complex, small size objects such as jewels. Whilst I use FDM for larger size projects that require stronger materials.”

4. What software(s) do you use to create and optimize your designs for AM?

“I use programs such a Rhinoceros and Grasshopper to design and combine them with native machine software such as DWS’s Nauta and Zortrax’s Z-suite to make the final part.”

5. Alice Barki's latest projects

kélyfos is a gramophone created for DWS. You can use it by inserting a smartphone for perfect sound amplification. It is composed of 8 pieces and exists as a “sculpture ” that must be observed at 360°, like a Nautilus with shell-like lines

Alice Barki Kelifos 8
Project Alux project was inspired by sea waves It is a lamp and also an acoustic box. Dimensions are cm. 25x30x30 that means this item is particularly difficult to 3D print by stereolithography. Alux was exposed at CES of Las Vegas (USA).

Alice Barki Alux 3

VESPA V98 is a revisitation of the motorcycle headlights of Italian “Vespa V98” new way to see the old but always actual piece.
Alice worked with stereolithography creating different pieces and assembling it, using DWS printing machine. It was exposed at Mecspe in Parma last March 2018. “Vespa V98 was an important step of Italian Design and I’m proud to have this piece in my collection of art objects,” Alice says.

Alice Barki Vespa V98 2

Thank you so much to all the 3D printing designers that contributed to this expert roundup! If you enjoyed reading this post, share it on social media and help us spread the word about it.

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Minuca is a freelance writer specialized in creating expert roundups which provide readers with high-quality, informative content. She also helps bloggers connect with influencers. You can contact her at her blog,

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