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The most trafficked wild product in the world isn’t ivory or rhino horn, but rosewood, an endangered tree verging on extinction as demand for rosewood furniture in China clears out forests in places like Madagascar. But what if an identical material could be 3D printed from wood waste?
Unlike particle board or laminate, the grain goes fully through the material, so it can be sanded and refinished like wood. A product like a chair or bowl can also be printed in its finished form, without waste. It’s also possible to easily print detailed shapes. “We can make incredibly complex geometries that would probably take a craftsman weeks or a month,” says San Fratello. “That kind of complexity is free with additive manufacturing.” Over time, designers might use the process to make materials that go beyond the qualities of natural wood—a guitar or a speaker, for example, could potentially look like wood but have characteristics in the grain that help improve the sound of the product.
The company plans to work with companies and designers to make furniture, architectural accents, and home goods (but not, Fulop says, something like two-by-four lumber); it’s already working with Yves Behar’s Fuseproject on its first collection. The cost of the final product is competitive with wood, and with complex or large designs, may be less expensive. It can be mass-produced quickly at a large scale, but the company envisions one of the benefits being the fact that it can be printed locally on demand, so products don’t have to be shipped long distances.
If a product eventually breaks or wears out, it could be potentially be ground out and reprinted into something new. For companies that are aiming for circularity, such as Ikea, it could conceivably be one way to change how furniture is made. “This is the first time you have a circular process for wood manufacturing,” says Fulop.