March. 1 2021

3D Printing: An Integral Part of the Luminaire Design Process

The first steps of entering a new production method with different workflows are unavoidably subject to multiple trial and error processes. 3d printing can become an essential part of any design exploration process to find suitable dimensions, shapes and forms and serves to understand the production and creation process better.  
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It all started with a replacement part for a linear fluorescent tube. While browsing through a luminaire storage, checking for functional luminaires which should be retained from being dumped I discovered a classic T5 luminaire with a missing end cap. It was a merely aesthetic flaw since the luminaire was functioning fine otherwise, but I was sure that this would be an opportunity to start investigating into 3d printing to allow me to reproduce this specific part of the luminaire. The scope was identified with a measurable goal and I tried to reverse the design process to build a duplicate from the existing end cap.

From idea to form

Purchasing a sliding caliper immediately became effective when starting detailed measurements on luminaire parts. The end cap had a rather simple cylindrical shape with delicate mounting bits in the bottom to connect to the socket base. After getting a glance on the first 3d‐printed part from the 3d‐file I had generated I was caught by surprise. Positive about the fact that a machine is capable of spitting out a digital model, transforming data into a tactile product. But also negative, since the quality of the result was far off my expectations with exception from form and material thickness of the generated object. This led me to analyze the piece in detail, revise the modelling workflow and the transition into the “slicer” the program that translates the 3d model attributes for the 3d printer. Following these steps I was able to refine the surface structure and quality, optimize the necessary support structure to print this piece and get consistent results. It took a few attempts to figure out the correct tolerances to make the end cap snap onto the socket without using too much force. Simultaneously I was interested in trying different material types with variating characteristics besides the PLA, which is most commonly used in the FDM 3d‐printing process and engaged in online learning courses that helped me to calibrate and utilize the 3d‐printer more efficiently.

From form to fit

My creative process was boosted by changes around the office leading to a closer cooperation with the architectural studio Gottlieb Paludan Architects (part of AFRY). In 2019 we started to extend the 3d printing hardware in our common workshop/light lab at the office allowing faster and larger 3d‐prints. It helped us to react instantly in projects where we wanted to apply customized fittings. We were able to deliver Mock‐Ups and conceptual solutions ranging from luminaire brackets to reflectors parts.

At this stage we mainly utilized the 3d printing capabilities to make tests and give clients an idea of scale and form of the final tailor‐made product part. Due to its rapid and almost instant way, additive manufacturing supported our decision-making process. This made me realize that 3d‐printing can become a major part of a circular economy system and a sustainable alternative for the existing linear production due to its decentralized production capabilities.

3d‐printing can be the fastest way to the target.

It still feels like scratching the surface of options and opportunities connected to 3d‐printing nowadays since the possibilities and knowledge exchange in the field of 3d‐printing are sheer endless. But these first iterative steps to arrive to an adequate and bespoke 3d‐printing part made me more interested in more complex tasks.

Materializing ideas and the production of custom-made parts has become significantly easier and more accessible through additive manufacturering. We are capable now to react and adapt to changes at the detailing stage and proactively influence the solution finding for difficulties at the project site.

Article contact

Frederik Friederichs

Group Manager and Senior Lighting Designer, NO