3D printing meets felt

By Ashini K Ekanayake

Recent developments in 3D printing technology has allowed the creation of architectural elements such as Acoustic panels using robotic needle felting. This process was developed by researchers at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning in the US. The process developed by these researchers involves the material involved getting digitally layered, similar to how plastic and concrete are being used in current 3D printers. With the new system, there are more opportunities opened up to felt.

The new printing method involves products being made from either wool, polyester, or a hybrid of both materials. This process is achieved by needle felting, where barbed needles punch through the layers, tangling the fibers together. This process can already be accomplished by certain industrial machines, and what the Taubman College team has succeeded in is to enhance this process by incorporating advanced technologies. This has allowed felt, which is popular for its sound-dampening properties and is therefore prominent in acoustic panels, to be molded into more complex shapes and forms.

The new method allows the tool to felt in three dimensions rather than two, allowing for the production of sculptural elements using felt. This allows for a single felt panel to possess different properties within it, even if no discernable differences are visible on the surface. For example, the panel could be stiffer in certain areas, which is useful in the creation of acoustic solutions for open-plan offices. The new method is also faster and more precise, boosting the efficiency of production. By using the new technique, the team has created several prototype panels as well as a round pouffe, as shown below.

Pouffe created by felt using new crafting technique

Pouffe created by felt using new crafting technique

All the prototypes created were utilized to explore different felting techniques, namely quilting, shiplap, which is a method of overlapping commonly used in timber planks, as well as a shingle, which shows overlapping tiles.

The research team has noted that methods of additive manufacturing has revolutionized several industries, while the textile industry remains relatively untouched, with the exception of 3D knitting used for products such as the commonly known Nike Flyknit. However, current methods impose limitations on the products thickness as well as fibre density. This new process will be reviewed and analyzed in order to improve the efficiency in current production methods