GrabCAD talked to Michiel van der Kley, the creator of Project EGG - one of the biggest co-created 3D printed objects on Earth. Thousands of people 3D printed small pieces of the EGG and shipped them to The Netherlands where Michiel assembled them. Project EGG is a spacious building consisting of 4760 unique "stones" which were all individually 3D-printed.
Why did you create this project?
I am a furniture designer, working for mainly Dutch furniture companies like Artifort, Gispen and Arco.
Although I am pleased with the opportunities I get in the furniture industry, I wanted to do something completely new. I saw desktop 3D printers as a big challenge and wanted to see how far 3D printing and 3D software could bring us. Maybe I was able to shift the boundaries a bit. Look a bit further than the obvious.
To be able to do that I gave myself a year and muddled around. I was trying to print things that could not be produced any other way, wasn't too busy with the function of the object, whatever it would be, and tried to get behind things. I did not want to copy the existing world. To cut a long story short, I saw an opportunity in the end by producing this organically shaped 'building' with a machine, with stones that were each different (to emphasize the power of 3D printing) and with a lot of people from the community of 3D printers all around the world (to emphasize maybe a new way of producing, different from the way we produce things now).
Can you tell us about the EGG's functional space?
I did not want to give this 'space' a regular function, because I did not want to have a conversation about that. Its purpose is, to start with, to show other people what 3D printing is capable of. It shows a maybe new world we're entering where everything is different - the shape of things, the way we can produce, the way people can get evolved, maybe even the democratization of building things.
What software packages did you use? What 3D printers and 3D printing technologies were used?
I used Rhino and Grasshopper. Grasshopper is a plug-in for Rhino, and now I think it is one of the most brilliant pieces of software I can lay my hands on. It took me a lot of time to figure out. I don't have great mathematics skills so it took me a while to understand. In our studio we use FDM printers. The stones was designed for FDM such as MakerBot and it was also designed in a way that people were able to 3D print it without a supporting structure. Over 20 different brands of FDM printers were used by many other 3D printers around the world and I know of at least one person who used a professional SLS machine.
What were the challenges you faced?
Many. Making the Grasshopper definition work properly was one. Organizing the oh so many stones that had to be sent to oh so many places each with the name of the participant in it was another. I had to get better at organizing the project.
Before that I cooperated with a structural engineer to find out if what I wanted to make was strong enough - which was a challenge by its self. After that I had to do a tremendous amount of planning in order to make sure that every stone came back and was placed in the right spot.
After a few months I had to do a lot more automation, as much as I could, and it is hard to take the time to do that when it feels like you don't have that time.
What did you learn during this project?
If I had to do it again (and I hope that is the case) I would try to organize a lot more up front. Hire good staff would be something too. You know, it was actually just an idea I had, and in the beginning I did not realize how big it could grow. I actually thought I could spend some hours on the project and after that go back to designing furniture for the rest of the day.
What can we take away from this project?
Well, we've shown that a collaborative 3D printed art piece, or whatever you call it, can work. I would love to expand the possibilities in that direction. Furthermore, I think, the combination of technology, design, and engineering is something to work on. I have a feeling we could work on buildings that are described as some kind of recipes and come up with the most original ideas and designs. I think we have proven that you can make large things with a small machine, and why not take that idea to the next level?
Are you happy with the result?
Yes, very much! You have to see it with your own eyes in order to get it completely. It does something to you, standing inside and seeing the walls merging into the floor, and merging into the ceiling. It is as if you lose control for a second, and a lot of people that went in (something all of the contributors of project EGG had an opportunity to do) were almost touched by just being in it.
What advice would you give to designers?
If you, like me, would like to go for something really new, ditch everything you know, take some time off, and try to get to the very core of what is yours, or what drives you. Build it up from that point and see where it takes you. To some of you it might sound silly or frightening perhaps. I look back at the time when I was just starting to think about this project and I do that with great pleasure. I think the road to what in the end became project EGG was maybe the most intriguing part of it.
What is the future of 3D printing?
On the box of my 3D printer was something written like 'now your imagination is your only limitation'. I still think that's a very good slogan but I tend to think that it's not true. Of course there are limitations but it is for us to find out where they are. The future is bright. We're only at the beginning. With a bit of knowledge of 3D software, the quite easy slicing software you can design and create your own world. We also need better materials, but you see new ideas about that pop up almost every other month. I am hoping that in the future 3Dprinting will also enter the 'regular living room'. For that there is a great need of useful content, I guess. Another challenge.
Project EGG wasn't really a co-design project, more a co-create thing. And another thing is that I am already working on a new project, different of course, but with the same shape language and the idea of making something big but with a lot of small items, but this time we are going to work with a specific and new kind of concrete. It is a mixture of cement, a mineral for binding and a specific kind of grass, called elephants grass. It seems the grass has superb qualities for this purpose.
Thanks for the interview, Michiel, and good luck with your future projects!
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