Sensor for Lighting Control Using a Large 3D Printer

Frequently, new products are dreamt up by designers who then look for ways to make them. From time to time, an extremely innovative product is made the other way around.

The founders of [email protected], Daniel Büning and Jörg Petri, found their inspiration from 3D printing’s immense potential. As Büning says, “We saw immediately that it would be a really nice idea to print modules that could be stacked together to create a space divider for an office space or a living room.”

In order for the capabilities of the technology to be properly tested, three additional requirements were added to their brief: an integrated lighting system, the incorporation of sound-proofing properties, and a 3D-printed sensor for controlling the lighting system.

Historically, the commission of custom parts from a range of specialist producers would have been needed in order to bring such concepts to life. A great deal of resources and time would have been consumed as a result of additional challenges which surround the integration of the various different components.

In the past, bringing to life such a concept would have required the commission of custom parts from a variety of specialist producers. Additional challenges surrounding integration of the numerous different components would have consumed significant time and resources. Büning and Petri’s instincts told them that 3D printing a prototype of this complex product would help to avoid these other issues.

Constantly in search of new ways of shaping and scaling additive manufacturing for tailored industrial use cases, NOWLAB is the innovation and research center within BigRep. NOWLAB’s expert team works to create custom industrial application solutions with the use of patent-owned, cutting-edge processes and production methods.

NOWLAB is at the forefront of BigRep’s attempts to uncover the future of industrial manufacturing and products, making it an important player in the research sphere.

The Result

NOWLAB developed and produced a completely functional product which matched their brief in only four months. Featuring a range of impressive built-in functions, the Modular Wall is an elegant and clean solution.

The ground-breaking 3D-printed capacity sensor was created with the use of a conductive material. Enabling the user to control the lighting system, it can be embedded in any module in the wall. Printed components such as this may eventually replace traditional switches, removing the need to touch the object by enabling users to perform off/on functions only using gestures.

Equally as impressive, the commission of custom parts was not necessary for the design and manufacture of the product. The ground-breaking 3D printing was sufficient. The stackable modules, which were the biggest components, were 3D printed. Some of these were printed in a translucent filament, as they were designed to diffuse light. A variety of smaller support parts were also designed and printed, as were separate sound-proofing ‘patches’.

The majority of the smart lighting system’s components, such as magnetic contacts, light fittings, wiring, and PCBs, were off-the-shelf purchases. The printed sensor for lighting control constitutes the exception which was the design’s signature element. In line with the designers’ plans, this part was developed especially before being 3D-printed using two different 3D printer filaments – one non-conductive, one conductive.

The majority of the integration of different components was able to be performed by 3D-printed parts courtesy of the intelligent design. The printed parts were made in such a way that they ‘clicked in’ to each other, and recesses were made in them for the accommodation of off-the-shelf purchases.

All that was needed apart from this was a straightforward assembly process including soldering and the fitting of nuts and bolts, in addition to the connection together of a few electrical components.

The Future of Production

Inspired by 3D-printing technology, this product shows the prospect of many end-use products being directly manufactured by 3D printers in future. It also demonstrates that the creation of products which historically may have been unimaginable may be facilitated by the flexibility of large-format 3D printing. Petri said, “This approach to industrial design brings new possibilities: things that really were not possible, like to embed a sensor, by yourself.”

In BigRep’s 3D-printing technology, there are three primary elements of flexibility: BigRep’s wide selection of 3D printer filaments, including materials suitable for electricity conducting, load bearing, light diffusion, and sound proofing; the ability to print small and large forms with extremely complex geometries both outside and in; and the print precision and material flexibility which allows for the ‘click-in’ connectivity of parts.

When the imagination and expertise of a team such as NOWLAB combines with this flexibility, ideas such as the sensor turn into reality. 3D printing makes new products possible.

An Essential Industrial Design Tool

The immense resource and time-saving powers of 3D printing for the process of product designing are illustrated by the development of the Modular Wall.

This product took just four months to develop, while Petri says, “For a large furniture company, developing this kind of product takes roughly 2 years. This is due to the length of the traditional prototyping iteration cycle, which 3D printing – especially in-house – can shorten immensely.”

From a costs point of view, a conventional developmental approach to development would have necessitated a great deal of spending on externally produced prototypes, in addition to more time being spent on modelling in-house.

Petri highlights that the final benefit of the 3D-printing process is that superior industrial designs are ultimately created. This is partly a result of the flexibility mentioned above, but also a result of the low costs and rapid nature of 3D-printing.

The ability to quickly produce sophisticated models allows industrial designers to make minor changes to ideas and quickly produce a brand-new iteration on this basis. This provides the designer with more information, allowing them to really push the limits of possibility.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by BigRep.

For more information on this source, please visit BigRep.

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