MU Form Furniture Design is using 3D scanning and CAD tools to quickly translate its unique artisanal furniture designs into the tooling they need for partially-automated production. Until recently, developing the tooling involved time-consuming manual processes to capture the design. Recently however, the company has streamlined the process by outsourcing its 3D model making work to Artec, a Luxembourg -based manufacturer of 3D scanners, which also offers 3D scanning and design services.
The main material MU Form works with is high quality bent ply, which is one of the most widely used materials in this industry due to its ability to create a variety of shapes for chairs, stools and tables. The company’s specialists seek to create great designs that pose a challenge for other manufacturers to copy or replicate. “Our designers are tasked to develop furniture designs that require a significant amount of trial and error by developing physical prototypes of chairs and stools,” says Mark Leong, CEO of MU Form.
The main material MU Form works with is high quality bent ply, which is one of the most widely used materials in this industry due to its ability to create a variety of shapes for chairs, stools and tables. The company’s specialists seek to create great designs that pose a challenge for other manufacturers to copy or replicate. “Our designers are tasked to develop furniture designs that require a significant amount of trial and error by developing physical prototypes of chairs and stools,” says Mark Leong, CEO of MU Form.Physical prototype of a chair’s seat ready for 3D scanning. Image courtesy of MU Form.
To produce a new original piece of furniture, MU Form would normally ship a physical prototype model to a factory overseas so they reverse engineer the model by using a router duplicator to create a wood mold.
“While this method worked to get us started in making a somewhat accurate representation of the chair or stool prototype, it didn’t allow us to efficiently fine-tune some of the curvatures and surfaces that we knew needed to be fixed for the final production furniture,” says Mark. For example, surfaces that were meant to be absolutely flat could not be adjusted for the mold in the initial stages. Instead, some manual work needed to be done on the mold, which would sometimes lead to inaccuracies in the final production pieces. Additionally, this method did not provide for mirroring the furniture, which would ensure accurate symmetry.
“While the results allowed us to get our furniture into production, it fell short in terms of our expectations for quality and consistency,” explained Leong.The model is scanned and captured for processing. Image courtesy of Arctec.
With the adoption of 3D scanning, the furniture designer still develops the physical prototype of a furniture piece. But, to reverse-engineer the piece, the prototype is 3D scanned with the Artec Eva, a fast, precise handheld 3D scanner. The raw point data is then used to create contours using the Rhino 3D CAD package, in particular to accurately model every nuance in curvatures and radii. The program also enables flat surfaces to be recreated. For a symmetrical piece, the model is mirrored. The result is a final model that has been minimally altered to remove the prototype’s defects.The dimensions captured from the prototype are translated into a CNC-made metal mold. Image courtesy of MU Form.
The 3D model is then emailed to the factory which creates an accurate CNC metal mold directly from the file. The company also uses 3D model renders for patent processing and to show upcoming products to potential clients.
This chair has been 3D digitized by Artec’s Rachel Yalisove who explains “The scanning process was very quick, taking no more than 10 or 15 minutes. In general, it was a very easy scan. The chair is wood with a matte finish, and some grain lines helped Eva stay on track. I captured the front, back, edges and handle in separate scans, then snapped them together with the align tool.The finished product. Image courtesy of MU Form.
“I just had to make sure to pay close attention to the edges as to collect enough data for a crisp contour. The scanner worked fine with these areas. It helped to position the chair on a textured floor or up against a wall to maintain tracking.
“Processing took less than an hour. After aligning the data together, we used Registrations, Outliers Removal, and Smooth Fusion algorithms, which worked really well. We were able to sift our data down to .1 quality accuracy very quickly. The seat was 1.7 million polys / 89.2 Mb. Each leg was about 550 k polys / 30 Mb. We exported the files in STL format and emailed them to the client via a download link.”
The use of Artec scanners has helped MU Form significantly increase the quality and consistency of their furniture, while at the same time boosting productivity, saving development time and reducing development and production costs.
“It has allowed us to digitally fine-tune our furniture in digital space so that the mold factory can make a metal mold via CNC (as opposed to a wood mold) from a digital representation of the chair or stool in a much shorter time frame than the previous process of sending the prototype and developing the mold by hand,” says Mark. “A CNC metal mold allows for much higher quality production furniture to be made.”
The time frame for creating a mold has been slashed from 60-90 days to 20 days, and savings are estimated to reach 10-15%. MU Form’s Mark Leon says that the company plans to continue working with Artec to make other furniture pieces, including tables, chaise lounges, and other larger pieces.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping