Kuka robots use 3D printing to turn plastic waste into designer furniture

Innovative projects by design and architecture teams show how Kuka robots use 3D printing to produce furniture from recycled clinical waste or turn plastic waste from the sea into beach chairs and changing rooms.

The 3D-printed seat and bench modules Twine – designed by Hagen-Hinderdael in London – are something completely new in the furniture world. “We got the idea for Twine when Rossana Orlandi launched her third Guiltless Plastic campaign,” recalls Sofia Hagen, who founded the design studio Hagen-Hinderdael in 2020 with Lisa Hinderdael.

Milan gallery owner Rossana Orlandi regularly invites artists and designers to exhibit their projects on how to dismantle mountains of waste. So Hagen-Hinderdael invented Twine, a piece of furniture made from recycled plastic. They use filaments from the Amsterdam company Reflow, which picks up the material for 3D printing from recycled plastic waste. Incidentally, the raw material for Twine, the rPETG filament, comes from discarded hospital trays.

Clinical waste as a raw material

Hagen-Hinderdael then hired Ai Build in London, who had worked extensively with reflow filament, to create the furniture. Ai Build is a software company founded in 2015 that “currently employs 20 people and five Kuka robots,” according to Chief Operating Officer Michail Desyllas. “The biggest challenge on this particular project was the geometry of the parts and the desired aesthetic finish. We were not allowed to change anything. “

Ai Build decided that a KR Iontec Series KR30 L16 and a KR Quantec Series KR90 R2700 should perform this 3D print job “because these robots have the range to complete these parts. In addition, our software is fully integrated here, allowing us to monitor quality and report errors in real time, ”says Desyllas.

Two robots enable color transparency

When Twine was to flow like waves, Ai Build designed a mold for it, a kind of curved double bed on which the still hot material from the 3D printer could cool and solidify. The narrower elements were made of KR30 L16, the wider ones of KR90 R2700, with both robots equipped with a filament extruder system. This system captures up to four different filament streams in different colors. This allows for a special play of colors.

Desyllas admits that the application of the rPETG filament was difficult: “Each layer must be applied within a certain time window. Not immediately after the previous layer, so that nothing falls, but also not too late, so as not to endanger the layers. But with good preparation and thanks to the care of the robots, it was possible to design aesthetic, robust and comfortable seating.In the future, Twine seat elements will be individualized and will be produced by Kuka’s Italian partner Caracol-AM.

Designer furniture from the recycling robot

But Twine is not the only example where Kuka robots are helping to turn plastic waste into furniture and other objects. The New Raw – a research and design studio in Rotterdam, the Netherlands – has since 2015 transformed plastic waste into high-quality furniture using 3D printing and the help of Kuka robots.

For this purpose, the architect Panos Sakkas and the architect Foteini Setaki converted two industrial robots from Kuka, which they bought used, so that they can print furniture such as park benches, beach chairs and other objects in 3D.

An example: For the beach furniture series “The Elements” alone, The New Raw transformed 720 kilos of plastic waste from the sea with an additional 20 percent other plastic in beach chairs, changing rooms and bathing jetties. This 3D-printed piece of furniture now beautifies five Greek beaches.

Travel with 3D printing robots

The studio’s eight to ten man team works in two places, Athens and Rotterdam, and travels around Europe for outdoor projects. Fortunately, the robots, coupled to an extruder, are also suitable as a mobile 3D printing device. “We travel with robotic units with sufficient range and low energy requirements,” adds the architect.

“We can print whatever comes to mind,” says Foteini Setaki enthusiastically. “Sometimes it’s pretty hard to push the boundaries of this technology because we have so many options.” The production time can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the material and the geometry of the element to be printed. Depending on the design, it is usually between three and twelve hours.

Kuka AG

www.kuka.com


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