3D Printed Luminaires: Shining A Light On 3D Printing’s Commercial Interior Design Potential

Images courtesy of Perkins+Will

Signify recently launched a service to 3D print custom light shades and fittings on an industrial scale. Luke Christou explores how the technology can benefit commercial interior design

In late 2019, lighting company Signify unveiled its new facilities in Maarheeze, the Netherlands, paving the way for the company to 3D print light shades and fittings on an industrial scale.

In January the company opened a similar facility in Massachusetts, United States, and additional facilities in India and Indonesia are set to follow. Throughout these facilities, Signify plans to have more than 500 3D printers in operation that will allow it to mass produce luminaires of up to 60cm in height and width.

“We are the first lighting manufacturer to produce 3D printed luminaires on an industrial scale, reinforcing our position at the forefront of lighting and sustainable innovation,” Signify’s chief innovation officer Olivia Qiu announced at the time.

Benefits of 3D printed luminaires for chain retailers

Signify’s expansion plans are already paying dividends. UK-based fashion and food retailer Marks and Spencers (M&S) has partnered with Signify to create thousands of 3D printed luminaires which will be rolled out throughout its UK stored by the end of the year.

The promise that this offers to large chain retailers such as M&S, that require designs to be replicated throughout hundreds or thousands of stores, is evident. 

While opting for 3D printing over more conventional methods is unlikely to cut manufacturing costs, customers will see a significant reduction in the time it takes to have their ideas brought to life  “in a matter of days, rather than months” according to Qiu. 

“The time we save is really in the overall development: from the initial concept, design, manufacture and shipment,” Signify spokesperson Elco van Groningen explains.

“ The time we save is really in the overall development: from the initial concept, design, manufacture and shipment. 

This is thanks to the flexibility of Signify’s 3D printing process. Bespoke luminaire design and production on a large scale is typically a long, costly procedure with the various processes requiring tweaks before a different design can be produced. You also have to allow room for error. This makes it difficult for large orders of bespoke designs to be produced and fitted in a reasonable amount of time. 

However, each luminaire produced by Signify can be tweaked by shape, pattern, colour, size, lumen output, driver and optics to suit the needs of each store, and printed in the same day.

“The biggest advantage is that it’s a much more flexible way of serving our customers, as you have the availability to make a small number of bespoke or tailored luminaires, or even a single one if you need,” Van Groningen says. “This wouldn’t be possible with traditional manufacturing methods.”

Environmentally-friendly interior design

In 2012, M&S became the first major UK retailer to achieve carbon neutrality and has continued to set itself lofty sustainability targets since. Its deal with Signify is another step in the right direction.

Aside from the time it saves and flexibility it provides, 3D printing also provides a more environmentally-friendly way of producing furnishings and fittings. Signify’s luminaires typically have a 47% lower carbon footprint than conventionally manufactured luminaires. They’re 35% lighter on average, which helps to reduce the energy spent on transporting them too.

This doesn’t just apply to luminaires. 3D printing in general, whether being used to create light fittings, wall fixtures or any other interior object, can help businesses to become more sustainable.

“Especially for interior architecture, 3D printing is incredibly beneficial,” Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder and COO of 3D printing construction platform Aectual, explains. “There’s no waste in the print process, and after use, all elements can be taken back, shred and directly re-printed.”

Aectual’s range of products, from facades to room dividers, are created using a printable bioplastic made from plants that can be entirely recycled back into its print process.

In order to ensure that its products aren’t going to waste, Aectual will soon announce a fully circular economy service where it will collect and recycle 100% of its products at the end of their use cycle.

“ There’s no waste in the print process, and after use, all elements can be taken back, shred and directly re-printed. 

Signify also provides businesses with the means to contribute to the circular economy. Its luminaires are made using a 100% recyclable polycarbonate material that customers can return to be shredded and reused in its print process.

But how much do retailers actually value the environmental benefits of 3D printing?

In 2019, climate change jumped above ethics and diversity as the main focus of corporate sustainability efforts, according to research consultancy GlobeScan’s annual The State of Sustainable Business 2019 report.

61% and 43% ranked reputational benefit and consumer demand as the driving forces behind its sustainability efforts, and it’s no wonder -- according to Accenture, 62% of consumers say they purchasing decisions are influenced by a company’s ethical values. Likewise, 62% want companies to take a stand on issues that are close to their hearts, and 47% have stopped purchasing from a company as a result of its actions.

According to Van Groningen, these environmental concerns, or apparent desire to please consumers, are reflected in the decision-making process of those that approach Signify:

“When it comes to winning contracts we see that sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the decision-making process of our customers.”

3D printing: The future of interior architecture

Additive manufacturing equipment first started to show signs of promise almost four decades ago. Companies like Signify and Aectual have now perfected the process, and continue to refine the technology and processes to provide more accurate results at a lower revenue and time cost.

It still has its limitations, notably its material limitations. However, for customers in need of bespoke designs - particularly those requiring a large number to fit particular spaces or stores, such as chain retailers - 3D printing can provide a range of benefits and solve many pain points.

“Printing is accurate, we can provide made-to-measure solutions very fast on demand, and parts can easily be replaced (reprinted) when damaged,” Heinsman says. “More and more, it will definitely become the main manufacturing method in case there is a need for bespoke items.”