Case Study

The office chair, reimagined

Breakthroughs often start with a simple concept. And in the case of Steelcase’s™ SILQ chair — which won a prestigious Innovation Award at the 2018 NeoCon — an aspirational sketch started it all.

In 2008, James Ludwig, Vice President of Global Design & Engineering at Steelcase™, sketched a chair concept stripped of all the machinery that had become status quo in high-performance seating. Since SILQ first debuted, Steelcase™ has continued to experiment with enhancements on the chair’s design, living up to its decades-old reputation of pursuing innovation. Now, consumers can personalize their chair with different fabrics, colors or finishes. 

To expand the personalization options for the SILQ chair and continue to reimagine the design, Steelcase™ partnered with Fast Radius and Carbon® to design, engineer and print a custom arm cap using additive manufacturing processes. When Steelcase™ joined Fast Radius’ Application Launch Program℠ (ALP℠) in January 2018, they wanted to find an additive application that would go beyond using 3D printing as a tool for rapid prototyping. Rather, they wanted to explore how additive manufacturing could improve the product development process and differentiate their products in the market, while also greatly reducing the time it took to bring the product to life.

Working with Fast Radius to design for additive manufacturing and produce the new arm cap yielded four key benefits for Steelcase™: 

  1. Streamlined product design and development
  2. Improved and unique aesthetics
  3. Simplified the assembly by consolidating three parts into one
  4. Improved customer experience through mass customization at scale

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Streamlined product design and development

For Steelcase™, a key benefit of additive manufacturing was expedited speed to production. In each design iteration, the prototypes were at nearly production-grade levels. Not only did this save Steelcase™ time in the design and prototyping phase, but it also allowed them to glean insights about fit, form and functionality in real-time. This allowed greater improvements to the design that may not have been realized with traditional prototyping.

For a design-driven company like Steelcase™, this was crucial. Unlike the traditional lengthy, expensive design cycles, the additive manufacturing process meant Steelcase™ could go through as many redesign cycles as it took to get it right. In this instance, Fast Radius took the initial idea and turned that into 100 design concepts. From those iterations, Fast Radius produced 12 unique designs in just six weeks.

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Improved and unique aesthetics only possible with additive manufacturing

Carbon®’s Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS) technology uniquely enabled Steelcase™ and Fast Radius to experiment with design of lattice structures, textures, multi-durometer foam replacement and other functional elements. In the end, an aesthetic lattice structure and unique texture were incorporated into the design of the arm cap to allow the part to stand out and showcase its additive origins.

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Using additive to turn three products into one

SILQ arm caps were traditionally manufactured with three separate parts assembled together. Using additive manufacturing, Fast Radius was able to print the arm cap as one contiguous unit — no assembly required.

Every part of the SILQ chair responds to gestural inputs rather than manual adjustments — reacting intuitively to a person’s body and movements. And the arm cap was no exception. Fast Radius designed the additive manufactured arm cap in four zones that provided different attributes based on how someone’s arm might interact with the cap. Although each zone was designed separately, Carbon®’s DLS™ technology allowed the entire arm cap to be printed as one cohesive part using EPU 41, a material that is both flexible and conforming. And the use of lattices reduced material usage by up to 70 percent without sacrificing performance. 

Zero-cost mass customization

Consumer personalization is fundamental to the SILQ idea. For high-value products — like the SILQ chair — mass customization can be a key differentiator. More than three-quarters of consumers are willing to pay a 10 percent premium for customized furniture, according to a report from Deloitte®. And as many as 10 percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium of 50 percent or more.

If, for instance, a corporate client wanted to personalize the arm cap by changing the texture, adding a logo or customizing the look of the exposed lattice, it’s just a design change in the CAD file. And when the part phases out of production — or a client wants to do another run of their custom arm cap — the CAD files can still be printed on demand. No re-tooling, no warehouse costs. Just change, print and go. 

Disrupting the high-performance seating market with smart additive design

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To capture innovation awards, earn press and make waves, you have to be first. Steelcase™ knows this well. It’s only natural that Steelcase™ is adopting additive manufacturing as a means of enhancing design and streamlining production.

The impact of this arm cap design transcends the SILQ chair. It transcends even the furniture industry. It means that designs that were unmakeable 10 years ago, like the SILQ chair arm cap, can now be made with the advent of scalable, production-grade additive manufacturing.

This is an exciting time to have a revolutionary idea — about chairs, or anything else. So the question is this: How can we help you engineer the impossible through additive manufacturing?

Talk to our team today about how we can lead you on an immersive exploration into how additive manufacturing could streamline the supply chain, save costs and create high-performance, production-grade parts.