Hot Wire Extensions: reusing waste nylon powder by Studio Ilio

In the past few years, 3D printing has become incredibly popular and affordable. 3D printing is seen as a sustainable method because it leaves little waste, but this is not true for all types of printing. A method called SLS (selective laser sintering) uses nylon powder, which is melted by a laser to achieve the 3D shape. However, every time it is used, about 40 per cent virgin powder has to be added to keep the quality. That means that 40 per cent of the nylon powder goes to waste. Studio Ilio, consisting of designers Fabio Hendry and Seongil Choi, has found a way to reuse this waste nylon powder to make chairs with the project Hot Wire Extensions.

For Hot Wire Extensions, the designers use nichrome wire and a material mixture of waste nylon powder from SLS 3D printing and cristobalite sand. By putting an electric current through the wire, it heats up to about 600 degrees Celsius (1112 degrees Fahrenheit), melting the nylon. The nylon bonds with the wire, creating a solid and seamless structure.

The designers experimented with various materials before landing on nylon powder. They realised that they needed a powdered plastic for it to melt evenly. Nylon powder qualifies for that. In addition, because a lot of this powder goes to waste during 3D printing, the project contributes to a better world. Studio Ilio obtained 1000 kilograms (2205 pounds) of waste powder from one company in London, which was generated only in the course of three weeks.

They also needed a filler material to keep the plastic from dripping down the wire, which caused them to add the cristobalite sand.

Their last challenge was the wire, which provided three main obstacles: unwinded bare wire is extremely curly, the wire expands by 15 per cent when heated, and multiple wire create a short circuit when touching each other. The wires could be unwound with a set of tools. The expansion could be reduced by giving tension to the wire, for instance by twisting it. Finally, the use of high temperature resistance fabric to cover the wire allowed it to touch each other without short-circuiting. By adding another layer, a high flexible cooper tube, it was possible to make stable 3D structures prior to the solidification process.

For the process, the structure is put in a box, the wire sticking through in a few places to attach the electrodes. After that, the mixture of nylon powder and sand is poured in until the structure is completely covered. The electricity heats up the wire, melting the nylon powder and creating a bone-like structure.

The method can be used to make any structure. For now, Studio Ilio has made 12 stools for Hot Wire Extensions, which are currently in the process of being released to the market.

Photos via Studio Ilio