This project had a sneak preview during Jonathan Rowley’s seminar at last October’s 3D Printshow in London (see earlier blog entitled “Design Different”)

The object has now been refined to the point where it’s entering the market and we think it demands a case study in terms of it’s design development in relation to the constraints of 3D printing and the exciting potential that this led to.

Nicholas O’Donnell-Hoare had previously worked with D2W on a couple of projects. The “Kissed Ring” combined the scanning and 3d printing capabilities at D2W in order to produce a ring that won the Overall Originality award at the International Jewellery London exhibition in 2010. With Nicholas now at Saint H, D2W helped to print their “Bee Brick” in plaster.

Having first brought us the bees, Nicholas then approached us with the birds. He wanted to produce a 3d printed bird house.

Original Bird Box design
Original Bird Box design

The original design was very clean and elegant, however the height of the box created by the curvature of the roof, made it an expensive object to print. Based on our Nylon SLS pricing structure a single bird house would cost £175.

The nature of a bird box, being an open volume, only accessed through a small hole at the front, would also make it an extremely awkward model to process. When immediately emerging from the printer, the open internal volume would be full of unsintered (unmelted) nylon powder, all of which would have to be shaken out through the bird access hole. Any remaining powder would then have to be cleared out of the interior with access to the bottom front edge of the interior being especially difficult. D2W’s assessment: Nice object, but expensive and very awkward to process.

Nicholas was undeterred and was keen to find out if there might be a way of designing around these problems. One’s natural instinct when 3D printing is to produce the object in it’s finished form. Does this always have to be the case?

It was clear from the form of the bird house that it could possibly be printed in flat sections, rather like a traditional card model.

The front, back and bottom of the house could be laid out as a sheet, with a crease being inserted into the surface along the line that the ends would fold up in to the vertical position.

Thinking about how to achieve the curved roof, it was just possible that a corrugated sheet could be designed that could be printed flat and once printed, would then bend to form the curve.

Nicholas went away and his team set about deconstructing the form and designing it as two separate flat elements. We received the two files back and then printed them.

The prospect of starting to bend and fold nylon SLS was a daunting one. We had no idea how the material would respond. When folding a flat sheet, would it flex without snapping or tearing? When bending the corrugated section, would it do so in a regular way, or would it be a bucking bronco of a bend? Would it even bend at all? There was the distinct possibility, that even when built as a very thin sheet, it would remain rigid like a washboard. All in all we had no idea.

Saint H Bird Box being folded (2 of 27)
The flat printed front, floor and back section
Saint H Bird Box being folded (5 of 27)
Folding the front elevation up
Saint H Bird Box being folded (7 of 27)
Folding the back elevation up
Saint H Bird Box being folded (9 of 27)
The flat printed corrugated roof part
Saint H Bird Box being folded (13 of 27)
The even bend of the corrugated roof part
Saint H Bird Box being folded (15 of 27)
Fixing the corrugated roof part to the base part
Saint H Bird Box being folded (17 of 27)
Folding in the side seals
Saint H Bird Box being folded (19 of 27)
Rolling the corrugated roof on to the base part
Saint H Bird Box being folded (20 of 27)
Locking the back edge of the corrugated roof in place
Saint H Bird Box being folded (22 of 27)
Finished front
Saint H Bird Box being folded (23 of 27)
Finished side
Saint H Bird Box being folded (24 of 27)
Finished back

Most 3d printed materials are relatively poor simulations of their traditional counterparts, so people used to working with traditional materials can be disappointed with the results. What this exercise with the HÛS demonstrates, is that Nylon SLS has distinct properties of it’s own, which can be exploited to create prints that are designed to transform in to something else. People’s gut instinct when considering 3d printing anything is that you have to produce the print in its finished form. This project demonstrates that this is not the case.

Being able to print this 3 dimensional object in virtually 2 dimensions has resulted in a number of positive outcomes.

Firstly, it is much cheaper to produce the object as it is flatter with less height and less volume. It’s also now possible to package the finished article in an envelope rather than a box as well as giving the consumer a simple yet satisfying assembly project.

Secondly, it has resulted in a rather more sophisticated object in terms of the details that have been added to facilitate assembly post printing. The cog-like tongues on the front and rear faces of the house add a very satisfying engagement mechanism as well as eliminating any draughts through the structure. They also add to the considerable rigidity of the house once assembled. The corrugation of the curved roof, means that rain water will be guided off the back of the house thus preventing staining of the sides and means that water won’t drip down over the entrance to the house.

Thirdly (one of those happy coincidences) the evolution of the design which resulted from the flattening out process have produced a number of visual allusions that we think increase the object’s charm. It now looks like a a cross between a gypsy caravan and a baby’s bonnet.

The HÛS is a sweet and modest object, however it does illustrate something powerfully interesting about 3d printing. The rather manic focus of attention on 3d printing revolves around printing objects complete in their finished form. This project clearly illustrates that 3d printed things do not have to come out of the machine in their finished form. With an understanding of the materials and their properties, you can carefully design components that once printed can be simply and elegantly transformed in to the finished object. Granted, it takes a little more time, but the result is actually something that is more considered, more elegant, more precious and more fun.

The HÛS is currently on display at the Design Museum in London as part of their beautifully curated exhibition “The Future is Here”. It will also be in display and for sale at our forthcoming exhibition “What you CAN make with a 3d printer” being held as a part of the London Design Festival. It will also been shown at the 3d Printshow in London this November.