Designing new furniture has always been somewhat of a materials-limited challenge. Designers have great ideas sparked inside imaginative minds always looking to push the envelope. Unfortunately, they are often held back by the limitations of those materials they work with. Hence the decision of more than 15 companies in Europe to get together to study the potential of composites in furniture design.
A consortium being led by Germany’s AZL Aachen GmbH includes companies from both the furniture and composites industries. They will spend the next several months studying the possibilities of incorporating more composite materials, like carbon fiber, into modern furniture design. The study will look at market segmentation, technology trends, future technology requirements, and design.
According to Composites World magazine, the main goal of the project is to better understand the needs of furniture designers as they seek to bring more composites into their designs. It would appear that designers really want to start shifting from more traditional materials to composites.
Furniture Design and the Environment
Composites World interviewed one industry executive who explained that today’s furniture market “requires environmentally friendly material [sic] and a solution for the end of life treatment to recollect and reuse materials.” In other words, the industry needs new manufacturing materials with a minimal impact on the environment – by way of original use and recycling and repurposing.
That same industry executive went on to explain that composites are increasingly showing promise for the furniture industry. Materials like carbon fiber and reinforced plastics enable manufacturing without the need for wood. They are strong and durable enough to make furniture with a much longer life, and the materials can be recycled as old furniture if discarded.
The icing on the cake is the fact that composites fabrication really opens the door to innovative designs that could never be realized with wood and metals. As such, the joint study will look to identify “specific applications in the furniture market to make use of material which is not limiting creativity or design specifications but rather enabling the future to be revolutionized.”
Carbon Fiber Has Proved Itself
Among all the composites the consortium may choose to study, carbon fiber is probably their best bet. Carbon fiber has already proved itself through extensive use in the aerospace, maritime, and sporting goods industries. Engineers and designers have come up with some fantastic designs made possible through the use of a space age material that is stronger and lighter than both aluminum and steel.
Rock West Composites, a Utah-based supplier of composite materials including carbon fiber and fiberglass, says that fabricating carbon fiber furniture should be pretty straightforward. Custom designers used to charging premium prices for their furniture should not blink at the cost of manual layups. They would be able to stretch design parameters to their limits as well.
If there is a challenge here, it is one of finding a way to mass produce carbon fiber furniture pieces for the more budget-minded market. Not everyone is willing to pay premium designer prices, nor can everyone afford them. So manufacturers will have to find a way to keep the retail price of carbon fiber furniture down.
A Brave New Composite World
It’s fantastic to see so many industries taking a serious look at composite materials. You could make the case that we are now living in a brave new composite world that doesn’t rely as much on trees, metals, and other traditional materials. Our collective push into composites is gradually reaching every area of life, including the furniture that makes us comfortable in our own homes.