Product designers are increasingly turning to digital fabrication to design and manufacture their wares. Leading the pack, CNC milling and 3D printing aim to permit unprecedented precision in design detail and structural complexity—but they don’t stop there. Both also let designers tweak materials in a way that allows them to transcend the everyday and enter the realm of reinvention. From a shape-shifting wood surface to a lamp made from recycled refrigerators parts, these six new products have our editors craving for more in this new era of tech-driven design. Here's why:
1. New Properties
Wood isn’t known for its ductility, but Milan-based design studio MammaFotogramma designed WoodSkin to prove otherwise. For use as an interior surface and wall cladding, its triangular geometry is CNC-milled into two sheets of Russian birch plywood that sandwich a layer of vinyl mesh, which give it the flexibility to strike a unique pose.
2. Beyond the Bits
Three-dimensional printing is often relegated to the task of creating spare parts or accessories for everyday objects. The Satellite Lamp joins Dutch furniture designer Dirk Vander Kooij’s collection of products extruded from recycled plastic reclaimed from discarded refrigerators and used in applications with high visibility—in this case, lighting up a room. Users can control the intensity of the fixture’s three T5 lamps using two knobs mounted on its translucent shell.
3. Sharper Shapes
CNC routers are often used to give millwork and furniture their clean edges and graceful curves. Inspired by hand-carved African stools, Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based furniture studio Grain Design used a CNC router to mill the top of its FSC-certified ash coffee table, Dish, into a shallow bowl that slopes downward from a flat edge to create a functional design element.
4. Modular Solutions
In the quest to 3D print entire structures, some architects are turning to modular construction as an economical alternative. One such solution comes from Rael San Fratello Architects’ material research and development team, Emerging Objects, in Oakland, Calif. The Picoroco Block is inspired by the shape of the giant barnacles, native to Chile and Peru. The modular wall block emulates the arthropods’ form on the exterior while exhibiting a hive-like geometry on its interior. The team says it can print the block out of cement, sand, plastic, acrylic, ceramic, and salt.
5. Simulated Texture
Named after René Descartes, developer of the 17th-century’s analog version of CAD software, the Cartesian Chair from furniture designer Alexander Purcell Rodrigues features a streamlined frame available in a variety of models that include material variations of its anodized aluminum frame to incorporate textured surfaces, wood, and upholstery. Working with aluminum fabricator Neal Feay Co., Rodrigues uses a CNC router to cut a geometric pattern into the chair’s backrest.
6. Mainstream Potential
The more the merrier, right? Sommerville, Mass.-based design studio Nervous System extended its Radiolaria web application, allowing any user to design bespoke versions of the company’s signature bio-inspired tables. Users can draw the table top and decide which of its holes will hold Plexiglas and which will remain open. They also can specify the table’s height, number of legs, and finish. The company cuts the design out of Baltic birch plywood using a CNC router.
While we’re inspired by this lot, we know many more digital-inspired 3D-printed and CNC-milled architectural products and design schemes are already out or on their way to the market—from an ornate room to dynamic facades to “genetically” optimized chairs. Send your favorites to firstname.lastname@example.org.