Christien Meindertsma creates novel 3D printing wool technique

The Flocks Wobot uses a form of felting to create the layers of wool

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According to Amy Frearson from Dezeen, Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma has developed a robot that can essentially 3D print using wool. Meindertsma’s robot, known as the Flocks Wobot, works similarly to a 3D printer to build up layers of wool, instead of layers of filament, using a form of felting to create three-dimensional woven volumes.

Christien Meindertsma creates novel 3D printing wool technique. The Flocks Wobot uses a form of felting to create the layers of wool.

“The Wobot is a collaborative robot that makes it possible to build three-dimensional structures with wool industrially for the first time, without adding any material or using water in the felting process,” said Meindertsma. “The three-dimensional wool structures that it creates are strong and soft at the same time.”

The project was made possible with the help of robotics company TFT, which worked with Meindertsma to develop a custom robot arm. This attaches to a ‘cobot’, which is a specific type of user-friendly robot. The attachment works with all different types of wool. However, Meindertsma has reportedly found it most effective with coarse wool varieties – like those found on European sheep – as they are more durable.

Christien Meindertsma creates novel 3D printing wool technique. The Flocks Wobot uses a form of felting to create the layers of wool.

She believes the technique has many potential applications in design, with examples including furniture, acoustic products, and insulation. “It’s a technique you can use with any European wool,” the designer told Dezeen. “The wool doesn’t have to be particularly fine and it doesn’t even need to be processed, just washed.”

The Flocks Wobot was one of two wool research projects that Meindertsma presented at the recent Dutch Design Week, in an exhibition titled ‘The Product Chronicles’. The other was a method for turning wool into soft blocks that can be cut into different shapes, which the designer believes could offer a sustainable alternative to upholstery foam.

She showcased both techniques in her recent solo show, ‘Christien Meindertsma: Re-forming Waste’, which is open at the V&A in London until 19 October 2024. As the third installment in the V&A’s 10-year-long Make Good: Rethinking Material Futures program, the show also includes her experiments in turning linoleum into a 3D material. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a robot-printed sofa, the first large-scale use of this technology.

Meindertsma has worked with different materials across her career, but wool is the one she has become most known for, thanks to projects like One Sheep Sweater and Fibre Market. Her latest research developed after Rotterdam Circulair – a state-funded program championing the circular economy – commissioned her to investigate the value of wool on the city’s grazing flock. As with most European sheep, this wool is not fine enough to be used for everyday textiles, so is typically treated as a waste product. The results of this project were a series of objects that utilized traditional artisan techniques. However, Meindertsma felt there was more opportunity to be found in modern manufacturing techniques.

Christien Meindertsma creates novel 3D printing wool technique. The Flocks Wobot uses a form of felting to create the layers of wool.

“My conclusion was that traditional techniques still work well, but wool also deserves a modern technique. There were some previous examples of people combining needle felting with 3D printing, but they weren’t people with knowledge of wool and how it behaves,” she said. “I realized it shouldn’t be exactly like a 3D printer, because 3D printed filament breaks with certain movements. But with strands of wool, you can do different things.”

Christien Meindertsma is also experimenting with different blends of wool, adding in some recycled, dyed yarns as a way of introducing color. “My next step is to explore all the possibilities.”

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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