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Experience 3D printing at Milan Design Week 2023

AM technology is increasingly present for experimental projects; large brands are now starting to also embrace it for top commercial products

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VoxelMatters (across all its previous incarnations, from 3Discover.it to Replicatore.it, 3D Printing Business Media and 3dpbm) has been promoting and covering 3D printing at Milan Design Week for over a decade. From 2014 to 2016 we’ve organized events (Synthesis, with GrowthObjects, DWS and Autodesk; Arthesis with Autodesk and various designers; and Methesis with Sisma, Autodesk, Lenovo and various designers) to show the possibilities that AM can open to the world of design, not just with plastics but also with advanced ceramics and metals). We’ve seen the presence of AM become more and more relevant, both through experimental projects and via design companies looking to implement it into real high-end products. Milan Design Week is a city-wide celebration unlike any other major industrial event, which leverages and combines the appeal of the Salone del Mobile fair and Fuorisalone exhibits. This edition of Milan Design Week showed more potentially commercial 3D printed products than previous editions and, while these remain either experimental or premium products limited to a very wealthy audience, the companies behind them, like Maserati, Kohler, GROHE and several others, recognize that AM is going to play a major role in the future of their manufacturing processes.

Luxury and one-off 3D printed design products

GROHE showcased the revitalized premium sub-brand GROHE SPA, via elegant bathroom designs displayed in four immersive cubes, starting with the 3D metal-printed Icon 3D products. The group took over the prestigious Pinacoteca di Brera art museum for the water-inspired ‘Health Through Water” installation, reflecting the stunning architecture of the art museum. Each of the four physical cubes nestled into the space was dedicated to one of four tiers that bring GROHE SPA to life. First, the GROHE Icon 3D collection: the PBF metal 3D printed products redefine what is possible while taking sustainable product design with ultimate customization options to a new level. In addition to seeing the exclusive products, visitors could hear the sound of the 3D printing, see the process on an LED screen and feel a change in temperature: it gets warmer as soon as the printing simulation starts.

The Icon 3D products are real and they are commercially available however they are not exactly for every pocket, with prices ranging in the several tens of thousands of euros per item. But they are beautiful to see, with designs that leverage AM on extremely thin walls and hollow structures, while maintaining a traditional elegance that is in line with the company’s other high-end products.

GROHE shows off elegant Icon 3D collection at Milan Design Week in a giant water-inspired installation at the Pinacoteca di Brera

The Creator’s Journey installation, presented by Kohler during Milan Design Week featured the iconic brand partnering with four contemporary female artists from four different countries to create a limited-edition global collection of 12 new Artist Editions products for the bathroom. The company also highlighted a breathtaking aerial sculpture by prominent creator and Arts/Industry alum Janet Echelman, and a user-controlled design experience at Palazzo del Senato during Fuorisalone in Milan.

Among these products, the company also showed the Rock.01 3D printed sink project created in collaboration with designer Daniel Arsham. This relatively simple shape was printed using a combination of internally developed technologies in order to print a vitreous material via paste-based pneumatic material extrusion. The limited-edition 3D printed sink is too complex to realize using traditional manufacturing methods and comprises 7.5 hours worth of continuously-printed vitreous china and patinaed hand-cast brass, Rock.01 is accurately referred to as ‘functional high art’.

At the Salone del Mobile Euroluce area French company Les Jardins – Aix en Provence, also showed their work with 3D printing. Euroluce, the International Lighting Exhibition, is the biennial trade fair that, between technology and poetry, architecture and design, is a source of inspiration par excellence, with the design dimension at its heart.

For Les Jardins, one of a few established companies to show 3D printed design products at Salone del Mobile, it was a way to begin leveraging the technology beyond its use in prototyping. The resulting products may not yet be compared to the company’s standard products in terms of the quality of the finish, but they are unique and the company’s designers are certain they will open new possibilities in terms of both creativity and sustainability.

One of the most breathtaking products shown during Milan Design Week, that made use of 3D printing, was the new Maserati Gran Turismo One Off Luce, one of three unique cars (one of which is only virtual) created to celebrate the Trident’s popular model. Shown at an exclusive event with celebrities like David Beckham and Italian actress Matilde de Angelis, the Gran Turismo One Off Luce is a statement of innovation and sustainability, featuring a full-electric Folgore engine, which literally reflects Maserati’s experimentation and constant research. Its interiors are made of ECONYL – a regenerated nylon yarn – which made it possible to 3D print the Trident logo on them, using Stratasys Tech Style technology. The project was conducted by local designer Salvatore Saldano.

Also featuring 3D printing on textiles technology by Stratasys, Atelier des Refusés, known for their unique and high-quality decorative pillows, launched a new collection called “Biodiversity”. Inspired by the world of mushrooms, this collection celebrates the beauty of biodiversity and the essential role these organisms play in the natural regeneration process and terrestrial ecosystems.

The partnership with Stratasys allows Atelier des Refusés to add further exceptionality to its cushions while maintaining its core values of uniqueness and zero waste. The 3D printing technology provided by Stratasys ensures a sustainable, exclusive, and high-quality product with no production waste.

The state of design for 3D printing

Covering two half pavilions out of the 14 in the 750,000 square meter Salone del Mobile fair, the SaloneSatellite was set up specifically to underpin the relationship between research, design and the industrial dimension, bringing to light those designers who distinguish themselves through the vocabulary of their own ideas. Founded by Marva Griffin in 1998, it is dedicated to designers under 35, to facilitate the relationship between business and young designers preparing to enter the profession, post-study, and the market.

As an incentive to develop their career paths, the SaloneSatellite Award assigned three cash prizes and two special mentions since 2010. Participation is free and it is up to the designers themselves to propose one of the projects they are showcasing at the special Salone del Mobile.Milano event.

ExtraBold and HONOKA show off resin 3D printed furniture at SaloneSatellite in Milan, with TATAMI ReFAB PROJECT
A moment from the Salone Satellite awards ceremony and, more 3D printed products seen during the exhibit.

Over the last 11 editions, more than 50 collective studios and designers have distinguished themselves sufficiently to convince the juries that their work was deserving of a place on the podium. The First, Second, and Third prize-winning prototypes and the many Special Mentions at each edition of the SaloneSatellite Award help to reconstruct part of the recent history of what informs contemporary design: safeguarding the environment, experimenting with new materials, inventing new objects for new habits and everyday tools, the evolution of lighting, the focus on rehabilitating craftsmanship, catering for children and pets.

ExtraBold and HONOKA show off resin 3D printed furniture at SaloneSatellite in Milan, with TATAMI ReFAB PROJECT

ExtraBold, a Japanese manufacturer of large format extrusion 3D printing systems, is supported the manufacturing and material development of 3D printed TATAMI ReFAB PROJECT, a series of furniture items created using ExtraBold Co., Ltd.’s large 3D additive manufacturing machine, the EXF-12, by design lab HONOKA. The project received the First Prize SaloneSatellite award.

Leveraging the work of several volunteer product designers, HONOKA exhibited a series of furniture in the Salone Satellite space. The studio developed its own materials by mixing biodegradable resin with Japanese discarded Tatami materials while using the large 3D printer from ExtraBold Inc. to reweave Tatami mats for modern living.

A trip through 3D printing at Milan Design Week 2023, where AM technology is increasingly present for experimental projects and products

These pieces of furniture were originally developed using ExtraBold’s equipment and technology, using a mixture of rush, which is the raw material for discarded tatami mats, mixed with biodegradable resin (cellulose acetate). Tatami mats, which have been popular in Japan for a long time, are made from plants that are fragrant, pleasant to the touch, and have moisture conditioning and deodorizing properties. In production, the waste rush provided by Ikehiko Corporation was pulverized, mixed with cellulose acetate at ExtraBold, and pelletized with a granulator for this project. This is a project that leverages a pellet-type 3D printer, the EXF-12, to create models using unique materials that are difficult to print with filament-type 3D printers.

Although they are not the majority, products made with 3D printing are usually much more common in the SaloneSatellite area than in the more conservative overall Salone fair. This year saw a high concentration of both experimental projects and products. EGOUNDESIGN, a Milanese brand, presented both the CENTO fountain pen, an actual product based on a design by Achille Castiglione that could not be efficiently produced without 3D printing (images, below, second image from the left in the second row), and SIBI, a 3D printed modular seating solution that doubles as a tabletop, container and lighting system. Its lightness and adaptability foster a dynamic connection between design, user and everyday living.

A trip through 3D printing at Milan Design Week 2023, where AM technology is increasingly present for experimental projects and products

Another project, titled GLASS ENCOUNTERS, featured a series of ceramic 3D printed vases created by MUT Agency and students from EASD València, the school of design in Valencia. Several products at the SaloneSatellite were 3D printed using LFAM technology from the Italian specialist Caracol AM. These included the Elli seats and tables by Alessio Elli (bottom row of the images above, on the right-hand side) as well as other furniture items from designer Hsiang-Han Hsu of Hsiang Han Design (bottom row, the two images on the left-hand side and center). Alessio Elli has been marketing his 3D printed product line for some time (one Made a Mano item was on display in the Binova showroom, in the very center of Milan, during Fuorisalone) while Hsiang-Han is exploring a business model that favors working with a client on the development of custom products.

Another product presented by Sekisai, a Japanese design studio specializing in 3D printing, was a vase focused on ‘computational coloring’. This practice consists of designing digital codes to achieve special color-changing expressions. In addition, the studio provides better lifestyles and supply chains through design works, including the ‘process’ of product creation with new manufacturing technologies. Finally, Danish architect Zara Adler presented Coma, a project that aims to challenge our relation to plastic waste. Coma is a 3D printed translucent lamp that diffuses a soft light. The lamp is soft to the touch, in the shape of a halo cloud, ‘breathing’ slowly and creating a calm atmosphere.

Super 3D printing design

While it is no longer the only beating heart of Milan Design Week, the Tortona district of Milan and its Superstudio is where it all started. Superdesign Show, Superstudio’s annual event for Milan Design Week, stages some spectacular and challenging installations that, while informing us about the latest updates of a selected international production, also anticipate questions and answers about the functions of the world to come. It should not come as a surprise that both the Superdesign Show and the nearby Opificio exhibits feature several 3D printing-related projects and products.

Among the most interesting products, ceramic tile specialist Unuslab used a WASP 3D printer to create a line of 3D ceramic tiles. The company also partners with Fluente, a ceramic 3D printing service provider that used the largest WASP 3MT ceramic extrusion 3D printer to create a series of outdoor furniture using Gres Procellanato – vitrified stoneware – a particular type of dense vitrified ceramic that is fully dense and can withstand humidity. The company’s representative explained to VoxelMatters that using 3D printing to create this type of outdoor furniture structures is significantly more cost-effective than any traditional method.

A trip through 3D printing at Milan Design Week 2023, where AM technology is increasingly present for experimental projects and products

Other interesting 3D printing-related projects were seen in the nearby Opificio area. These include two entries in the Lexus Design Award, a ceramic natural air humidifier and a series of 3D topographic models to help the visually impaired understand their surroundings.

Other 3D printed works included a series of beautiful natural fibers and ceramics printed by Tryk.lab and created by young designer Cora Schmidt, as well as an original-looking bio cement chair for the Essence of Biocement project, winner of the Green Product Award.

Biocement is produced by stimulating thousands of bacteria to form solid structures: In presence of urea and calcium chloride, Sporosarcina pasteurii is connecting granulated building waste with calcium carbonate. In the production process, neither a firing process and thus a lot of energy is required nor CO2 is emitted. The combination of biofabrication and digital tools enables the material to be formed in a new way. The project investigates the key functional and aesthetic potentials of the new material. Serving as an object of knowledge, it has been translated into seating furniture.

Bridging science and design, designers Julia Huhnholz and Friedrich Gerlach showcased applications for future-proof materials. In the context of the project “The Essence of Biocement”, they have been collaborating with the Department of Civil Engineering at Bauhaus-University Weimar, the Institute of Microbiology at Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and the Department of Civil Engineering at University of Cape Town.

Italian Chinese designer Zhao Zihang presented the SCDC chairs and tables created via his own Unicoprogetto studio, using an internally developed large format pellet 3D printer.

More 3D printing wins

More 3D printed products were seen at the Alcova space. Founded in 2018, Alcova is an itinerant platform for independent design. With its fifth edition coming up, Alcova continued its exploration of the city of Milan with a new location – the former Porta Vittoria abattoir on Via Molise. Today in a state of disuse but poised for a radical and permanent transformation, the area was activated by Alcova in an interstitial phase. The platform conceived by Valentina Ciuffi (founder of Studio Vedèt) and Joseph Grima (founder of Space Caviar) once again bough design and research into dialogue with surprising and historically significant urban settings, entering into a temporary relationship of cohabitation with nature that has grown wild and spontaneously taken over these imposing sites.

After having activated a former bakery factory, a cashmere factory, the buildings of a military hospital complex, Alcova renewed its commitment to bring historical and significant spaces for the city to life, transforming them into a stage of unrivalled beauty for a selection of designers shaping the future. Whether designers, galleries, museums, schools or companies, Alcova seeks to shine a spotlight on the most forward-looking design being produced today. The New Raw, a team of specialist designers of outdoor furniture using large format polymer 3D printing and sustainable practices, contributed to the space with the Knotty line of outdoor seating furniture.

Another prize was won for 3D printing by Aldo Sollazzo, CEO of Noumena Group and Director Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction at IAAC. His PURE.PLANTS projects won the first prize at Rossana Orlandi’s Guiltless Plastics competition. The competition, run by Rossana and her daughter Nicoletta, featured more than 700 entries and was led by a strong panel of experts and industry leaders such as ADI’s Stefano Galimberti, Stefano Boeri ArchitettiPininfarina and many others.

So, is 3D printing in or out?

It is clear that 3D printing has a major role to play in the world and in the future of design but how big is it and how big can its adoption get? While the enthusiasm among many – especially the younger – designers is strong, the use of 3D printing for the production of high-end products remains limited by both material and size constraints. High-end 3D printed products in metal and ceramic materials can now be seen but they are still extremely expensive and limited to a very high luxury range. Low-cost and highly cost-effective 3D printed designer products also do exist now, but they are currently limited to outdoor furniture, where plastic and some low-cost ceramics are suitable materials. It will still take a few years until the new geometric and customization possibilities offered by 3D printing – which are so beneficial in segments such as aerospace and medical products – will be fully able to appeal to a larger demographic of design product users. In the meantime, materials and technologies will need to also continue to evolve and become more accessible. The possibilities are endless but so are the alternatives in the world of design products.


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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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