Fabricate this: ShopFloor software heralds a new era of mass customised furniture
Offering a window into the future of mass-produced furniture and architectural solutions, ShopFloor, a new web‐based software platform that allows buyers to customise their purchases, is taking off in the US.
Created by engineering and fabrication firm A. Zahner Company and launched last year, ShopFloor is a design-to-fabrication tool that makes use of generative algorithms and 3D software to facilitate streamlined production of customised furniture designs. 'We found a big void [on] the furniture scale between serially mass produced objects and one-off bespoke art pieces,' says platform design engineer Andrew Manto. 'ShopFloor spans this gap by enabling designers to directly create custom built objects.'
Perhaps one of the most appealing features of the app is its ability to calculate costs in real-time using current metal prices together with Zahner’s manufacturing costs, so potential buyers are able to design pieces to their own specifications while staying within budget. Once the design is complete, the app automatically generates production-ready drawings for the brand's Kansas City, Missouri factory where it is manufactured, packaged, and shipped across the world.
Thus far, ShopFloor's offering includes three apps: 'CloudWall' for vertically louvered fin walls; 'ImageWall' for patterned perforated metal; and, as of last week, 'Aluminum Bench', a snaking aluminium seating solution for public spaces that marks the brand's move into furniture.
Launched on Monday at Chicago's NeoCon design expo, the bench is the work of Los Angeles-based Jonathan Olivares Design Research, who worked in close collaboration with the engineers and designers at ShopFloor.
'The creation of any physical object is always an interesting challenge, but designing under a premise which allows high degrees of customisation contains an added degree of difficulty,' says Manto of the complex design process, which involved developing a computer algorithm that takes into account the curvature of the bench and distributes legs accordingly, in a way that makes it both stable and aesthetically pleasing. The team of five also calculated the minimum radius to which the aluminum extrusion used along the edge of benches could be rolled before breaking – 'the resulting dimension formed the basis for the manner in which any given bench can twist and turn,' he tells us. Made using 100 per cent aluminium parts, and available in black or white with a UV and scratch-resistant powder coating, the benches' curvature, length and colour can all be customised, manufactured and shipped within six - eight weeks.
As for the future? 'We are developing a set of facade generators that enable the novel use of Zahner’s beautiful and robust metal cladding systems,' says Manto. 'And we are also establishing a framework that will allow outside designers and architects to propose and develop their own web-apps for ShopFloor. We see the ShopFloor platform as being only as strong as its content, so we want to make sure that we are representing the freshest and most interesting ideas we can find.'