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Take a look at the foot stool pictured below. Notice anything different? If you did, it was probably the unusual grain on the legs. It’s not actually a natural grain; it’s the seams from the layers of wood attached to create it. This stool was 3D printed by startup 4 AXYZ, which hopes to use its technology to offer custom, affordable furniture made out of high-quality wood.
That means there are differences beyond just that layered look. For example, a stool made with current methods might be manufactured in nine pieces and then need to be hand-assembled. This stool is made of three pieces and no humans have to get involved in assembly.
Another difference: Without any extra manufacturing cost, a customer could increase or decrease the size of the object they order, or substitute in a different kind of wood. More interestingly, they could combine different types of wood and materials (think carbon fiber or Kevlar) to create composite items that would currently be very difficult to make.
Founder and CEO Samir Shah said that while machines have long been trying to catch up to humans with their woodworking abilities, “this time, hands can’t do this.”
When I spoke with 4 AXYZ last year, the company was closely guarding its product. But at the Launch festival Monday, Shah showed me a few printed wood pieces. Here are some examples of what 4 AXYZ can do:
Shah said 4 AXYZ has also since begun collaborating with Portuguese home company A Catedral. A Catedral is developing smart windows that can collect data from the environment, but need integrated electronics that are attractive and functional.
Enter 4 AXYZ, which developed a system to embed electronics within the window frames. Its machine is capable of printing hollow objects or embedding objects directly in wood.
Shah said 4 AXYZ could eventually print “smart wood” studded with sensors. A smart railing could detect when people go up or downstairs and switch off lights on turn on heat. Smart floors could detect when a stranger enters a home and alert its owners or the authorities.
4 AXYZ’s printing method involves adapting an existing German woodworking machine to operate in 3D. It works by combining small, uniformly cut pieces of wood. Shah actually prefers to put the manufacturing technique under the broader term of “additive manufacturing,” as there is at no point any liquid “ink” involved, as is generally the case in 3D printing.
4 AXYZ is currently seeking funding to buy its own woodworking machine. With money in hand, it would be ready to set up shop immediately.
Shah said that while they have thought up major applications like furniture, he’s sure people will think of many more ways to use the machine.
“We have the technology and we don’t know how far someone else can take this,” he said.