Recently, Voxel Matters had the opportunity to catch up with Manuel Jiménez García, Co-founder and CEO of Nagami, whose work has been exhibited at multiple noteworthy, international design centers such as Centre Pompidou in Paris, The Royal Academy of Arts, and Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, in London – just to name a few.
Manuel is a self-proclaimed nerd, passionate about technology, and has a master’s degree specializing in Computational Architecture. Both of his founding partners, Ignacio Viguera Ochoa and Miguel Ángel Jiménez García, are also architects by training.
Nagami was founded in Manuel’s mind during a research cluster, focussed on searching for a more sustainable way of building, at The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment. While “rethinking architecture from the very core”, the team started to explore the use of automation within the industry, something that was already very much relied-upon in other industries such as car manufacturing. Naturally, the use of robots was a worthwhile direction of exploration.
“We started with a small robot – doing some tests with the students. We were trying to print larger structures, rather than just small objects, that were much bigger, thicker, and more robust – objects that were no longer prototypes, but finished products. The first products were furniture pieces, but this evolved into architectural elements,” said Manuel.
After a few years of very successful research, the team received a call from the Center Pompidou, in Paris, with a request to develop a piece for the center’s permanent collection. The team was given two years to create the piece that would first be exhibited in an exhibition called ‘Print in the World’.
An opportunity to prove the years of research
“We decided to make a piece that would exhibit the potential of the research, in the form of a chair that could only be designed through computational methods and produced through robotic 3D printing. But at that point we had nothing. My office was tiny, I didn’t have a budget, I didn’t have enough space in London – where I was living. I had nowhere to put a robot and hire someone to work, because it was really expensive,” explained Manuel. “One day, after a crazy week, I came up with the idea to buy a second hand robot, and rent a garage in my hometown in Avila, Spain. That was incredibly cheap.” It was in Avila that Manuel established a founding partnership with Ignacio Ochoa, and Miguel García – Manuel’s brother.
“My brother and Ignacio started developing a plastic extruder to be attached to a robot, because that didn’t really exist back then. There were some artists who were trying to develop their own technology, but our aim was actually to do something that would become robust in the future so we could produce real objects, and sell them in the market,” said Manuel. “They spent one year developing the extruder, and I spent one year every night programming and creating a software to design this chair. Well, not only the chair, but an entire strategy to create any printed object with a robot. After a year, we printed it, we exhibited the chair, it was successful, and we received amazing recognition.”
Nagami was officially launched in 2016, during the Milano Design Week – with collaborations with Zaha Hadid Architects, Ross Lovegrove, and Daniel Widrig.
“These objects were produced in a very efficient manner. The Daniel Widrig chair was already under £2,000, but our aim was to develop furniture that was more accessible. We started to develop the structure and many other products of our catalog that would sell for around €500 – so we could compete with established furniture brands. Now, we can print chairs in 3-4 hours,” said Manuel. “Our manufacturing cost is low enough to get a price tag that allows the product to jump in the market, as well as evolve the technology even further and broaden the scope of every project that we work on – towards the scale of architecture, where we are focused nowadays.”
Nagami combines 3D printing technology with recycled plastics – a combination that results in carbon-neutral production. The company also does not hold stock, and produces only when needed.
“It is an incredibly short production chain and a very compact and versatile machine. This way of production is a great match for industries such as high-end retail that have huge sustainability problems because of the short seasons (about six months). These companies and brands launch a collection and everything goes together with that collection – the fit-out, the facades, the ornaments, etc. But after six months, they need to renew the space for the new collections. In addition to this, these brands want customized proposals which are specifically designed for them. The possibility of producing unique projects offers our clients a very strong differentiation in relation to their competitors, and we can create this in a very short timeframe,” said Manuel.
Nagami’s technology allows for the easy printing of parts up to 3.5m long, and has enabled the company to create works such as the ‘GANIC’ with Ross Lovegrove (an almost 4m tall sculpture that took a total of 48h of printing), as well as facades, panels, furniture, and integrated architecture elements. Currently, Nagami works in different areas, but is mainly focused on high-end retail, “because it’s a great match for us considering that our projects are 100% personalized and customized”.
According to Manuel, there is currently 8x more weight in plastic waste than the weight of people – meaning that each of us has a 650kg plastic waste footprint, on average.
“Funnily enough, the average weight spent on furnishing one’s apartment is also around 600kgs. Now, this is a moonshot right, but this means that if every single person on Earth would furnish their houses with recycled plastic, then we could eradicate the entire plastic waste we have in the world,” said Manuel. “But to navigate towards that, you need to increase the demand of this material, and 3D printing small objects and prototypes does not require that much material, and therefore does not have the volume to really make an impact. But if plastic waste enters the domain of design, architecture, and construction – the volume of this material being demanded increases drastically.” All of these sustainability benefits seemingly eclipse the huge upside of distributed/localized manufacturing.
A recycling subscription
Nagami’s team is currently working on a ‘furnishing and architecture as a subscription’ model. For example, a retail store that updates its physical space every six months or so can do so through a ‘Nagami membership’. At the end of the season, this offering will enable these companies to return the 3D printed panels to Nagami, where they will be recycled, and reprinted in the design of the new shopfit, at a discounted rate.
Nagami sources plastics (PETG) from old, very high-quality hospital equipment with ‘99% of the properties – in terms of perfection and refraction – as glass’. This means that the end product looks very much like printed glass, and the material only loses 1% of the properties in every recycle cycle. “It is a plastic that has been directly recycled from medical equipment and it can be used for structural purposes because of its greater flexibility and strength when compared with other plastics. So, if we create a pavilion or a chair that needs to support a lot of tension, you probably need to work with a pure material. However, as you recycle the material, you can change the use. For example, a lamp doesn’t have the same structural requirements as a chair. In those cases, we mix it with other plastics depending on the application,” explained Manuel. ‘Other plastics’ include those from sources such as Parley, who provides Nagami with recycled PET made from ocean plastic.
At full capacity (with five industrial robots from ABB, with fitted, custom-made plastic extruders – both of which are controlled with Nagami’s in-house-developed software), as of March, 2023, Nagami uses 3 – 4 tons of recycled plastic, per month.
At the time of the interview, the company was expecting to receive another 15 robots, in April, 2023 – which will significantly increase the company’s throughput.