3D print furniture is perhaps the best solution to get beds, chairs, tables, and more in the easiest and fastest way possible. This also allows homeowners to help reduce waste and build sustainable properties. Jeffrey McGrew takes this process to another level by achieving more personalized outputs and making customers more involved with their creation. Joining Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard, he shares the different 3D printing methods they are using at Model-No. to produce custom-made but still ergonomic furniture. He talks about the advantages of focusing more on quality over mere quantity, as well as maximizing the limits of wood integration and subtractive fabrication.
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Jeffrey McGrew On Adapting 3D Print Furniture Techniques To Today’s Demands
We’re going to talk about one of our favorite subjects, 3D-printed furniture.
We told you we were going to come back and do some episodes whenever we felt there was something strong, exciting and interesting to talk about. We started this show and we were designing loads and loads of furniture at that time. Originally, I said, “Why are we going to buy a printer? We don’t need to 3D printing furniture. It’s never going to happen.” It’s happening.
It’s happening on a large scale and it’s exciting to see. There’s this new company admittedly. They say they’re a startup. Although they’re well-established and they’re selling furniture. You can buy it from them and it’s called Model No.
We’re going to talk to Jeffrey McGrew. He’s the Cofounder and CTO of Model No. and he’s out to make the world a more interesting place. He has a knack for problem-solving, building unique and talented teams and leveraging technology to make great things. He’s an expert in digital fabrication that has been building and solving design problems for clients for many years and has a boutique design-build company because we can and has been doing that in the architectural build area for a long time.
Quick to challenge himself and others, Jeffrey is a Licensed, Award-winning California Architect who studied Architecture and Biochemistry at the University of Arizona and the San Francisco Institute of Architecture. I’m glad that he came across and we watched the videos of the products being built. We have a couple of those.
Time-lapse videos of some of the actual pieces of furniture being 3D printed. Some are entirely 3D printed and some are some parts that are 3D printed, but it’s pretty cool stuff and custom machines.
He’s open. He talks all about the different ways that they’re processing what they’re using, how they’re doing it and the challenges that they face. We’d be sharing all of that for you in the interview, and then tune back at the end because you’re not going to miss our assessment of how things are going in the furniture industry and what some of the things that they’re doing right or wrong that might be going on. We’ll share that recap with you at the end.
Jeffrey, thanks so much for joining us. It’s great to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I don’t know if you know this but we have a huge history in furniture. When we saw the 3D-printed furniture, we were like we have to interview you.
I had no idea. What’s your history in furniture?
Ever since college, we designed furniture and then early in each of our careers, we worked for furniture, either manufacturers or importers. Everything from office furniture to residential furniture, all different types, desks and chairs.
I was lucky enough to work on the Aeron chair, which everybody knows is fairly popular. We designed the most popular chair that you buy every single day that’s still at Costco. It has tons of plastic parts on it and that’s all we could keep thinking about it. 3D printing would have been so useful, at least big format, when we were prototyping this thing, and we couldn’t even prototype it that way because it didn’t exist.
You had to do a ton of work to set up for injection molding and a bunch of other stuff. That iterative loop gets to be really long.
We’ve been waiting for somebody to take on large format printing. We’ve taken it on in the furniture industry because it made sense to us. I think the unique reason is that there is so much waste that doesn’t get sold there. Right now, we are having a huge furniture shortage. If anyone doesn’t understand what’s going on in the supply chain, there are furniture shortages everywhere. You can’t go into stores, buy beds and buy chairs. They’re not coming over in the containers. You’re made-to-order without the waste.
That is correct. That’s a big inspiration behind the whole thing. My background is in architecture and we did a ton of sustainable interiors and stuff around here in the Bay Area, and it was always heartbreaking to see how much waste there was. As you mentioned office furniture, it wasn’t uncommon that you’d see them throwing out an entire floor’s worth of cubes and chairs because they were refreshing the space. There is also a ton of manufacturing waste where you make a bunch of stuff and then nobody buys it, and now you’re stuck with a bunch of stuff.
You shipped it, so you spent all that money shipping it and wasting all that energy.
A big part of our trifecta behind Model No., one of them is very much in the fact that because we’re making everything on-demand through digital manufacturing and fabrication, our product risk is low. We don’t have to guess what people want to buy, guess how much they want to buy, go make a whole lot of it and then hope to God that we sell it all or sell most of it and then have that as our loop. Instead, we can iterate on products very quickly based on direct feedback.
We’re launching new products at a ridiculous pace. Every month, we’re launching at least 2 or 3 new products. When I say products, I don’t mean small stuff. We’re doing small stuff too, but we have five more outdoor pieces from lounge chairs, dining chairs, loungers, and other stuff all coming out. Our iterative loop can be way shorter than it was as to your point. It could take a year or more to launch a single chair. We’re talking about a month or less to launch something on par.
It’s not as complex as an adjustable ergonomic chair. That’d be something that would probably take us longer than a month. On the ergonomic front, that’s another interesting thing that we’ve been playing around with, and that it turns out the problem is how you sell it and how you have the conversation with the customer. We can make chairs that fit you ergonomically perfectly if you tell us a few things about your body.
We have a couple of lounge chairs that we’re offering that if you tell us a few things like your height and few other things that can fit you outright. When we do get to make ergonomic office furniture, one of the things that we’ll be able to do is have a lot less moving parts out of it. The design itself will be a lot more sustainable and friendly. Being able to print large scale has been exciting.
I imagine one of the other things that are an advantage of the way you’re doing it is you don’t have to make everything vanilla. When we were creating furniture that’s selling at mass-market retail, it’s selling to so many people and being in every store, you can’t make a lot of the decisions, especially regarding color that you’d like to because you’ve got to make sure it sells everywhere. As you said, you got to sell through all the inventory that you’ve produced. Are you making them to order? Can color be a personal choice?
Yes. We’re making them to order. We have a certain range of colors that we’re offering, and that’s more of a limitation on the fact that the large format printing uses injection molding pellets, essentially. It’s all pellet-based. We’re buying, but the problem is that your minimum order of pellets is something called a Gaylord, which is an entire pellet load. It was 1,000 pounds worth of pellets.
We’re buying a bunch of raw material, separating it out and colorizing it to different colors because we don’t have the in-house capability yet to be able to make custom colors. We’re working with a vendor that mixes it for us and does the colors for us, and then we have a certain amount of each color that we run through.
To your point, we can easily do different colors. Most of what is visible on the website and we’re selling is all direct-to-consumer. We do have initiatives that we have going on that are directed like business-to-business things and some of those totally could do like, “You want your custom company colors and a bunch of different stuff. We can easily do that.”
We used to do Coca-Cola red all the time as Herman Miller when I went to work there.
We could totally do custom colors for different clients. It’d be easy. You can see some of the pieces on our site. We’re doing those gradients and such and we’re working towards getting it to where that would be programmatically controlled on a line-by-line basis as well. The materials need to be more complex where multiple colors are getting metered on-demand into the machine itself, so the machine can be mixing the colors as it’s going on the fly, which is something that we’re working towards but probably won’t have until later of 2021 because we got a lot that we’re doing.
As it is, we’re having to build the printers ourselves because there’s only a handful of machines on the market that can even do what we need in terms of scale, speed and everything else. Those available machines that can do furniture scale pieces reliably and at an industrial pace cost a lot of money, so the economics when you’re making furniture start becoming challenging. We had supplied and we’re building our own machines in-house to be able to do a lot of this stuff because it was the viable thing to do. I would love to be able to buy machines instead, but we’re probably a couple of years away from that being a reality or something.
I think that’s the whole issue. When we started this show years ago, that’s what we were seeing. Everything still has to be advanced and hasn’t quite come to that place. What were some of those challenges that you faced along the way besides the machines and trying to get to the level you wanted?
A big one is a pellet-based extrusion. That’s a fairly new thing and it’s something that’s not fully understood yet by the industry. I’m talking to one of our vendors that sells us some of our raw material and they’re pretty familiar with the pellet printing process because they’ve been working directly with Oak Ridge National Labs and their whole large format printing stuff that they’re doing. We’re working with Oak Ridge as well.
The idea is we’re going to take this technology that traditionally is horizontal and produces rain gutters that are endless extrusion into a dye of a shape. We’re going to take that and try to make it as small as possible and mounted on a gantry so we can move it around or have a table litter that moves around to basically make that into the 3D printing hub.
There’s a bunch of stuff around, like how do you make a micro extruder work well? How do you get the material or properties to be what you need, the strength, the wall thickness and the surface quality that you need? All the same things you struggled with that we saw 3D printing are struggling with many years ago with the filament printers, but are now pretty dialed in. Now you can buy a Prusa and out-of-the-box, it’s going to make pretty decent things because they’ve spent a ton of effort dialing in everything in terms of speed, nozzle sizes, materials and everything like that. We’re in that space.
The micro extruders that we bought had a single-digit serial number on them because it was the seventh one Filabot I’ve ever made. We’re discovering things with them where we’re having issues and problems with them and reaching out to Filabot, and Filabot is learning with us. We have the 7th or 6th one that they ever made, so we’re in this together. There is a lot of stuff around the micro extruder and pellet-based extrusion. That’s been a huge learning curve to figure out.
What about the material and material strength?
Material strength hasn’t been too bad. We’re trying to stick with primarily using different PLA formulations because we’re trying to be super sustainable. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do. A lot of it is trying to work within the limitations of that material. Learning a lot about wall thicknesses and other things that are going to give us and geometries that are going to give us those strengths and be able to work in the applications where we want them to work.
A lot of that comes down to more of the design assignment. One of the vendors that we worked with a bunch who understands this space, says that “Where we are with all of this is where injection molding was where it was a black art. You had certain engineers that knew it well and could communicate like, ‘You need to change these details on your piece to get this to come out nice.'”
Now injection molding is still a refined art. There’s a craft there, but it’s much more understood by so many more people that it’s easier to get good injection molding tooling from people than it was many years ago. That’s where we’re at. It’s a combination of the materials, but also the design and the shape of the pieces for their strength and everything like that we’ve been going through. I’m learning a ton around.
The other thing that we’ve been learning a ton around on the customization front is how to sell customized products to people. That’s a huge thing as well. From working at Herman Miller, furniture is a saturated market. There’s a ton of stuff out there. They’re the marketing and sales side of offering a new thing to this very saturated existing market has been a huge learning curve as well. It has nothing to do with 3D printing at all. It has everything to do with how do you interact with the customer? How do you show these pieces? What can you connect with that they want to buy? All of that standard business when it one sort of stuff.
It’s amazing how all these things have to come together in order to have a product line that’s going to sell and a company that’s sustainable. That’s incredible stuff. I imagine doing print-on-demand products and you’ve also are creating all these new designs, materials, and machines that are extruding pellets instead of filament.
I imagine you’ve had to do a lot of trial-and-error experimentation, especially for strengths. I would think dealing with seating. It’s something where you’re putting your entire body in it. What about weight limitations and all these things? Unfortunately, in this world, we learned the hard way that strength in materials and reliability of engineering only comes through failure. What is the breaking point? Can you share some of your explorations in that with some of these products?
We test everything even though it’s not necessarily required by some of our products. We test everything to the BIFMA standards that are out there for commercial furniture. It’s a lot of like put a lot of weight on it and drop it on its corner from a certain height at a certain angle. There are all these standards that you run through for testing. We stress tests and break everything.
A funny little side story about that is my prior experience as an architect running a design-build firm that did a lot of custom interiors, a lot of furniture and other things because basically, we were like a boutique architecture firm that had in-house digital fabrication shops, so we’d make a lot of stuff for our own projects.
I remember vividly the first time we got a successful, full-size print-off of our in-house printer that we built. That was for a little end table, and our lead industrial designer at the time was all celebrating it and we’re looking at it and stuff. He’s like, “This is great,” and he throws it on the ground as hard as he can to break it in front of everybody.
It’s like, “This is one of hundreds. It’s got to survive.” Coming from this architecture world where you’re making one, it’s super precious and you don’t treat it like that was really shocking but great in terms of this. It’s not that it’s disposable, but if you’re trying to make this work, it has to work.
Especially when sustainability is part of your mission and statements of what you’re making, you do need to make sure that things are going to last and some of that comes with material, that’s why it’s better to be choosing materials that are already known, have been out there already and rated for outdoor because you have color fade, fading issues, strength deterioration that happens from sum and all of those things. This is such a challenge you’ve taken on. You have to consult with the best of all of those industries to try to put something together and then why do you end up having to custom build your machine to accept all those things.
We’re working with Oak Ridge National Labs and we’re working with a couple of major material vendors. We’ve been working with a bunch of different people. Essentially, we’re hoping to offer this very new family product to the existing market and trying to move things towards what we’re calling healthy furniture in general.
It’s not just that the piece is sustainable, but it’s also non-toxic. There’s a lot in the furniture industry and greenwashing. We’ll plant a tree for every couch you buy, but the couch is made of urethane foam and it’s going to be like off-gas and be nasty that’s whole life. We’re trying to not go that route and make stuff that’s genuinely better.
The off-gas is a huge issue. Anybody has ever bought a piece of furniture, certainly at retail, especially something you have to put together yourself. You open up that box and watch out. You understand what it smells like inside of an Asian furniture factory, for instance.
Formaldehyde and all kinds of stuff are in there. We’ve made a lot of improvements. There have been the California Air Resources Board, CARB, standards. There’s been a lot of progress, but there is still so much farther to go, so the material choices make a big difference. One of the things that I like that you’ve done is done like wood plastic combos and steel plastic combos that you combined materials.
We have always been a big fan that one of the ways to get 3D printing because, in its concept, there is so much plastic there, and even though they should. We accept injection-molded plastic all the time, but combining materials can make something more successful at that higher price point, which we require for some of these custom-made products.
That was part of it too. It was perceived value. By adding wood elements to certain items did make the perceived value go up a lot higher. When we were first starting out, we were doing a bunch of research into what was possible in this space and looking at what we might be able to do, there were some boutique or smaller companies that were 3D printing furniture. There’s Nagami and some great stuff out there.
The two problems that we saw a lot over and over again is one, you can buy this 3D printed chair but it cost $10,000. That’s great. Kudos for that high design thing. I love it. As an architect, I loved the Zaha Hadid couch that cost $40,000, but the designer in me is like, “If you can’t make an awesome couch with a $40,000 budget.”
I totally get you here. For $40,000, it should print itself for you as an entertainment piece every time you go to sit on it.
The other problem that we saw happen a lot, which is where relevant to what we’re talking about right now, is a lot of these 3D printed furniture items that different artists or designers had done, is it almost looked like you took a 3D rendering and cut and paste it into the photo. It was really striking, which is awesome, but at the same time, it didn’t necessarily look like furniture. It looked like a 3D-printed piece sitting in someone’s living room.
To your point that you’re saying before, we want this to be mainstream because this is super pretentious, but basically, we’re hoping to grow up to be Herman Miller. Model No. were like, “Herman Miller back in the ‘40s used modern design with new materials and production techniques to come up with a whole family of new products that people hadn’t seen before that served like new niches. That was able to make them grow into this giant company they are now.”
We’re literally like, “That’s what we’re trying to do.” To that point, we were like, “It can look striking and it looks new, but it has to look like furniture.” As an example, we were inspired by the Eames design stuff that Herman Miller produced. A lot of it was the same where it’s very striking, but it still looks inviting and looks like furniture.
By no means, we are riffing off of Eames designs, but it was the spirit of it that we were inspired by. It had to look like a real piece and so a lot of that was the wood in the printing together, and we have a range of items. Some are entirely 3D printed and some are entirely digitally fabricated through CMC subtractive fabrication and don’t have any 3D printed parts at all. Most of the things are somewhere in the middle, where it’s combining the different things together.
I was going to ask you about that, having looked at your line on the website. It did appear like there were some pieces that maybe didn’t have any 3D printed parts of them. How central to your mission is using this new material and this new manufacturing process? Is it a requirement that is included? I’ve answered my own question and that you have some that don’t. How important is this new process and material to both your design mission and overall mission as a company?
The way to put it is that there are three big parts of our company of what we’re trying to do. One of them is to produce everything on demand using digital fabrications. 3D printing is a huge part of that, but there’s also a subtractive fabrication. There’s a manipulative digital fabrication that is folding metal stuff that doesn’t get talked about as much as the other stuff does but is also equally interesting for different types of products and such.
There’s a whole wheelhouse of stuff there. The thing for us more on how much 3D printing is involved in some of our products. It’s more of the line of accessibility if you will. It’s become buyable in the last couple of years to be able to 3D print things at the scale. We are using the pellet-based printers and developing all this stuff that we’ve developed in-house to be able to do this.
Forust released a 3D printed wood that they’re doing using a binder jetting technology where they’re using a wood flower with linden as the actual binder. It’s 100% natural because they’re using a natural-based polymer to make wood. We bought some of their samples. We’ve been playing around with it. I’m friends with Ron Rael, who does amazing work. We’ve known each other for a long time. They’re doing incredible stuff.
I’m like, “I could totally see a future where we could be binder jetting a bunch of stuff.” The problem for us is what it boils down to is it’s the economics of the piece that we’re making, the price of it and the production technology, much like any other standard furniture production. We’re fully embracing digital fabrication.
In a way, you could not have gotten through unfortunate circumstances. Actually, we’re lucky and the reset in the marketplace is happening from a pricing standpoint because we’re having such a supply chain problem in general. We’re having price increases go up across the board in furniture and all kinds of low-end furniture. We’re starting to see a reset in pricing, which is going to be to benefit.
The lead times are so extended for what used to be, “In 1 to 3 days, you can have anything you want.” No, not like now. You’re lucky if it’s 1 to 3 months. That feels like, “I’m lucky. I got a bed in three months.” It’s amazingly difficult and that’s helping to reset the marketplace for you. I think that’s going to give you a chance to get some traction.
I hope so. It’s amazing not to shill us too much, but you can order a dining table customized to the inch and get it in 2 to 3 weeks. For a totally customed sustainable hardwood dining table that you’ve sized exactly to the size you wanted or how you wanted all of that, which is astonish. Nobody else is doing that.
Your marketplace is ripe because there are people desperately out there. May I make the strong suggestion that we have been searching for a bed for over a year? Mostly because they’re so badly designed, number one. I’m sure you’re familiar with that. Number two, you get anything new in stock anywhere. You can’t even order anything and hope to get it.
Unless you’re going to go completely custom, which is another route to go, but if you’re looking for something that’s a high-quality manufactured item of certain quality material. Even if you could have gotten it years ago the inventory levels, they’re not bringing older models back in stock. They’re purely in and out. If you don’t buy the size of the bed you need, that’s the time.
They aren’t even making a full range of size is because they aren’t bothering. They’re like, “We’re going to go and make queen only, and then everybody else is out of luck.” There are some little pockets of the market right now that we’ve been seeing like that.
This is a little bit of a hint, but we’re working hard. We have a bunch more outdoor stuff we’re coming out with, and then the next thing that’s coming out after that is a whole couch system for the same reason. It’s because getting a decent couch that is the size that you want is impossible. It’s the whole same idea, highly customizable, fully sustainable and healthy, and then after that, we’ll probably get into beds and other stuff.
Let us know because we’ll probably still be in the market there.
Thanks for the tip.
When you want to talk about juvenile furniture, we’ll have whole another conversation, because that’s a whole another area. We are excited because we got into 3D printing with this idea of what we were going to do for our clients and we have a totally different business. Here we are, we do this show all day. We have a completely different model that shifted on us, but we had always thought there was some great buyability for the furniture industry. If they could figure out how to harness what 3D print could do and turn it into something, and you’ve done that. I’m so excited and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to have you here on the show was because we’re like, “Finally, somebody did it.”
It’s always a process. Nothing has ever done. There are always more opportunities. That’s one of the things that I love about design. There is always more to explore and figure out. To use this new process and material, the way that Eames did with curved ply material at the time is certainly exciting and pushing the edge.
That’s also part of it. As you were saying earlier, you’re asking about the design and strength of parts and such much like with the bent plywood and the fiberglass of the mid-century era. You need to have the abilities of the material and form of the aesthetics and vice-versa to produce interesting-looking good stuff. We’re heavy on the design side because we can’t take a standard design for something and simply 3D print it.
We know that doesn’t work.
Exactly. That is part of the challenge on the design side of what we’re doing. To that front, we try to make things that are wildly customizable in a lot of complex ways. It also changes. That’s the second leg of the stool of the three things that we’re trying to do really differently. We’re doing everything that is being done using parametric and computational design. People have a lot of different terms for it, but essentially, we’re scripting all of these objects.
A lot of these things are not designed in a very traditional fashion where you might have a designer that’s sketching things out or working very loosely in 2D and 3D, handing it off to a design for manufacturing team that’s been working through all of those issues, and then it goes out to actual production.
Our process is a lot shorter and also a lot different because we have to be like, “What are the rules that are going to govern this whole family of products? How is this going to work in terms of the sizes, the materials, and the options that are available? What’s going to be something that’s going to resonate with a customer? Whether they do not care about in terms of being able to edit, change, and all of that.”
It’s been interesting in that regard where we’re using a lot of procedural and parametric CAD tools. Rhino and Grasshopper are heavily featured with what we’re doing. We’ve been playing around with some of our products that we’re working on for more limited-run business-to-business sorts of things where we’re leveraging Houdini, which is amazing.
I completely fell in love with Houdini, which is meant for the special effects video industry. It’s not even necessarily a tool that’s utilized very much in CAD at all but is wildly parametric. It’s stunning in what it’s able to do. There is a lot of stuff that we’re doing in that realm that is different in terms of our product development process on the design side.
You’re still running a tight shift of being able to have 1 to 2-month design cycle. That’s pretty impressive.
Part of that is because we’re able to prototype things at full scale directly. It will be like we’ll design a new lounge chair that’s an outdoor lounge chair. We’ll iterate through things, have a couple of design meetings and then have a full-size one and test it. See how it sit in it and how it works. That’s the other third leg of the stool. We have a very tightly integrated group of marketing design and production altogether at the same time.
Part of that it’s easier because we’re a tiny startup, but at the same time, that’s something that we’re setting up as we scaling road remained true throughout the company instead of having some furniture companies which are 90% marketing and a little bit of design and production. Having those groups be totally separate silos. Even in some cases, it’s all marketing and the designers are licensed independent designs that are getting purchased and then brought to market if there’s design at all, which is common in the furniture industry.
That’s what most people don’t realize. There’s styling, not design.
It’s become all too common as it went more to an import process of retailers in the US going, shopping, and buying furniture in other countries to import, rather than having designed and built what they wanted to sell. It’s an entirely different thing. That goes along the lines of what you were saying or getting too. I always admire design that takes advantage of new technologies, manufacturing processes, and new materials but is not ruled by them.
Meaning that when you look at the design, it’s not obvious that, “Here’s the type of machine that was used to make it and they did as good a design job as they could given the limitations of the equipment.” That’s an entirely different thing. At least from a trend design, I’m looking at your line that you’re trying to embrace the new materials and the manufacturing process to create something unique that stands on its own.
We are. Pre-pandemic, when we were able to go to design shows more and show product more, it was not uncommon for us to get a response from somebody who was like, “That’s cool. Look at that thing. That’s great.” We would say, “It’s 3D printed,” and then they’d be like, “I didn’t know it was 3D printed.” It’s because most people don’t know that something’s 3D printed off the bat. We were trying to have this to be interesting on its own, not interesting because it happened to be 3D printed.
To recap your three-legged stool, you’ve got the on-demand piece. We’re going to call it a flexible low inventory piece because you do have to have the pellet inventories and you have some of it, but you’ve got inventory that’s completely flexible for you to be able to turn it into something. It’s not wasted inventory which is important.
You’ve got the piece of the way that you’re designing parametric and computational design. You’ve got this integrated team of sales, marketing, design, and engineering altogether working towards the common goal of which you’re paying careful attention to the market fit, which is a critical piece there. You’ve got a pretty stable three-legged stool.
I hope so. I’m the CTO. I own the stack of that computational design and the fabrication side of things. We’ve hired some awesome people on the marketing, retail, and sales side of things. I hope it’s a good three-legged stool. We’re feeling good about it, but at the same time, we’re trying to get into this very saturated market, and it’s very challenging.
Furniture is one of the oldest markets and oldest kinds of products that exist on Earth if you think about it. As long as human beings have walked the Earth, they’ve needed a place to sit and a place to sleep. Maybe at first, there was no furniture, but very quickly after the wheel, if not before, came a place to sit or things like that. It’s an oddly seductive market because you create such beautiful forms and everybody needs it on the one hand, and on the other hand, everybody needs it and has it. It is one of the most crowded markets you could enter. It’s challenging.
At the same time, it’s been some of the most unsuccessful business outings. There have been lots of investment groups who decided they’d go into furniture in the ’90s that happened. We had a ton of people in investment companies who thought they’d entered the furniture industry because we know furniture and we understand it. We sit on it each day, we buy it and they sorely underestimated the marketing, the inventory side of that, and they underestimate these things. It’s always challenging.
Absolutely. One of the other factors too is returns. For traditional furniture companies, returns are a huge issue where the cost of dealing with returns is painfully high.
The consumers have the same frustrating experience with the return process because everything is so big. By the time we get it home, we assemble it or we install it. It’s problematic.
So far, the experience has been bearing out, but our hope is that our model and how we’re going about this helps minimize the returns quite a bit, and so far, it has, which is fantastic.
If it is truly made-on-demand for the individual customer, maybe there’s an opportunity to involve them more and you’re doing this, but in the fact that your chair is in manufacturing and here’s a time-lapse video of it being printed. If you give them more of an ownership of this one is for you specifically, then there’s more of an attachment they form to it where they’re not so easily going to judge it too quickly, there won’t be so much buyer’s remorse or whatever the number of reasons is that might cause someone to want to return a piece.
That’s also a great strategy in raving and it’s an extremely important part of getting furniture and companies who produce great furniture to get that brand recognition, which as you say, it’s so saturated and difficult to compete against someone who’s been doing this for so many years absolutely and excellently. When you get someone who’s raving about the experience of it, now you’re coming through into a place of, “You’ve got to try this.”
How you get to be that like breakthrough Warby Parker thing, where you’re breaking into what was such a saturated market. When you didn’t realize that over time, that brand had eroded in value, there are very few brands. Herman Miller is an exception, as we’ve talked about them multiple times. Bernhardt used to be an extremely amazing brand and it’s deteriorated and value greatly based on the designs that they’re making the extended lead times. The next generation doesn’t get Bernhardt and so they haven’t transcended like they could.
You see the same thing in different fashion brands and labels.
They don’t always last the test of time until the next generation like we think we are because we’re not handing down the furniture like we used to. We have some Stickley or some of the stuff we’d have gotten that over the years from our grandparents, but our kids are like, “It’s just a piece.”
The companies don’t exist. Maybe, Hitchcock, we got some pieces, but we also have some mid-century modern Eames stuff that is going to file last up.
They’ll happily take that one. The hand-me-down part of it because some of them are not as well-made. They don’t last as long. It is not there as well, so you don’t have that generational that it used to have a long time ago. I think the furniture market is at this disruption point. You’re coming in at the right time of there’s going to be a whole lot of it that doesn’t make it through this mess that they’re in right now of low supply.
Also, when you get right down to it, it may sound over-simplistic, but it’s the idea of where it’s coming from architecture. It’s like the buildings that people love are the buildings that tend to stick around in terms of the sustainability side of things. People love these products that we’re producing because they were made for them and they were involved in its creation. It’s part of their story and there’s a story there that they’re connected to, then they’re less likely to toss it. That also helps the overall sustainability mission that we’re very much after so. It’s something that we’re very aware of and it takes a lot about how we can try to make that.
As you make more of those entertaining pieces and people are outgoing into other people’s homes, now you have a better shot of getting people to like, “Let me tell you the story about my dining table and my lounge chair.” You don’t have to rely on Instagram at this point. Jeffrey, I’m impressed with Model No. We are impressed with everything that you’ve created there and we want to have check-in at some point and see how things are going. Keep us posted as you get new materials and then some of those other things you’d love to do, just to talk about how you’re using those new materials too. It would be valuable for the audience.
Absolutely. There’s some exciting stuff that we’re working on with Oak Ridge National Labs around material recycling. Also, new printing technology helps us increase the strength of the FDM style print significantly. I’d love to talk about it in the future when we get it done.
We’ll definitely do that. As you’re going to have a new line out that’s using that, then we’ll come and talk about it. Everyone can hear about it, go check it out and buy some new made-to-order a Model No. furniture.
That sounds fantastic. It sounds great.
Thank you again and we look forward to seeing what comes next.
It was pumped to talk furniture.
It was refreshing for me. We’ve designed furniture for the majority of our careers. It was fun to see somebody else doing something that we considered doing ourselves and aspire to do, but more importantly, we respect what they’re doing.
Things have come across our desk before. It’s not the first time where somebody wanted to talk about 3D printing furniture but we realized quickly that they didn’t even know what BIFMA standards. You heard Jeffrey mentioned that in the topic. These are the furniture manufacturers association standards. They’re voluntary, but they are so common in the industry. The reality is from our perspective, if you don’t even meet BIFMA standards, you don’t meet the minimum requirement quality to be safe in someone’s home.
The fact that they’re already cognizant of that, they’re doing that then great. They already have a leg up on so many others who come out of the 3D print angle only and know nothing about the application in furniture. They just think, “Having a 3D print furniture company would be cool.” This isn’t the case here. Jeffrey and his companies before have been building custom furniture. They already understand the challenges of what people are looking for, what they want, and now they’re looking to expand that to make that more mainstream furniture like all kinds of choices that you can make. What did you find most interesting, Tom?
I found it most interesting that the real overall mission that they have is not only what company they are and what they want to be going forward, and they want to be a company that’s around for the long-term. They want to create designs that people buy and keep that are more heirloom-like pieces of furniture.
It’s the philosophy that they have. I think that’s a critical factor to the furniture companies that have withstood the test of time. They’ve withstood changes in the marketplace where the market did and was grew again, but the ones that had a strong philosophy have lasted through that. I agree with you. That’s an important part.
One of the most exciting things for me is the seasonality opportunity. He mentioned it because he talked about it, we’re working on outdoor furniture and it’s an outdoor season, then we’re going to work on sofas and living room furniture because we’re going to nest back up as fall hits. The being able to hit the seasonality of things in a better way and not having to plan out two years in advance, maybe nine months, or some of the lowest cycles we ever worked on, but that was iterations of stuff that already existed.
I would say we’re very commonly years out at designing furniture. You’re so beyond what’s happening from a trend standpoint and what’s happening in terms of seasonality. You’re off of that so often in the regular production of the furniture world. They have such a great opportunity to be more seasonal and be more current, but not losing the perspective on the philosophy.
It’s also exciting to see a company that isn’t playing the mass market distribution game, where you have to make some really wild guesses as to how many of something you’re going to sell and you have to design it to appeal to everybody, which means it might appeal less to everybody because it’s so vanilla.
What happens, Tracy, when we go to Costco and we see something we like, if we don’t buy it right then, in a week, it’s going to be gone, but here you’ve got a company that is also based on the seasonality. “It’s warmer weather. We’re going to need some outdoor furniture.” Here’s a company you can order some from. They’ll make it on demand and ship it to you, and you don’t have to worry about, “Did they plan and order enough, and is it in the stores in time? Is it delayed in the port being imported?” Forget all that.
I think this is where when they move into more contract furniture, and when we say contract, that means selling to businesses.
Business-to-business office furniture.
I think that’s where the success is going to lie for them is in that exact niche area, because what happens is in that furniture it’s like, “We have an office here and we have X number of employees. A few months from now, we want to go buy more furniture,” and it doesn’t exist. It’s gone. It’s out because of the way we bought it.
The only choice we have is to buy from contract furniture manufacturers. You never continue this stuff and the pricing might be completely out of range for us. Human discontinue things at various times. We don’t know how many years out you could go where you can’t match your furniture anymore.
Traditional office furniture and contract furniture manufacturers like to have a big contract for a big company for hundreds or thousands of sets of things. Whereas here, you can as a small business or an individual, you could buy as many as you wanted and you order what you need, and then order more later as you said.
They have some great potential to hit a real niche in the marketplace that is not being filled there too. They have what it takes as a base and philosophy and in that three-legged stool that he talked about. I think the biggest benefit for them is the economics of not having all that money and risk in your company in inventory. That is going to help them be a much more sustainable business from a business model standpoint. This is the perfect 3D print company. I’m so glad to see it happening. I’m so glad that all these things have started to converge and things are getting even better for them with new materials and other things. We’ll have to have Jeffery back.
I want to keep an eye on this company and see where they go. It’s very exciting. Hats off to him. Great job.
We have something new coming up too.
We are doing a new show that you all might find very interesting.
We call it The Next Little Thing and we’re here to review and give some recommendations on great products, services, apps, technology and different things that we find that are the next big thing, but the next little thing that makes our life so much easier. The things you rave about every single day that you tell all your friends or you buy them as gifts for everyone you know.
Sometimes the next little thing might be the next big thing. At least that’s the way we look at it.
That’s right. You never know. Check out The Next Little Thing wherever you listen to the show or you can type in our name and you’ll find all the different shows that we host.
Hope you enjoyed this one. We’ll be back when we have another great subject to share with you and advancement or something cooler that are hot in 3D printing. Stay tuned and subscribed to make sure you get it, and we will see you again in the future.
- Model No.
- Oak Ridge National Labs
- The Next Little Thing – Previous episode on The Binge Factor
About Jeffrey McGrew
Jeffrey McGrew, co-founder and CTO of Model No., is out to make the world a more interesting place. He has a knack for problem-solving, building unique and talented teams, and leveraging technology to make great things.
Jeffrey, an expert in digital fabrication, has been building products and solving design problems for clients for over 20 years, with his boutique Design Build company Because We Can. Quick to challenge himself and others, Jeffrey is a licensed, award-winning CA architect who studied architecture and biochemistry at the University of Arizona and San Francisco Institute of Architecture.
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