3D Printing Q&A with American Standard’s VP of Design

American Standard 3D printed faucets

Last year American Standard announced the availability of a line of metal 3D printed faucets. Not only was American Standard using cutting edge technology to fabricate a mostly consumer-level product, but they did so with beautiful results. Of all the 3D printed products I’ve come across, none showcased the future potential of additive manufacturing to the degree American Standard did with these offerings.

Leading the effort was Vice President of Design and friend, Jean-Jacques L’Henaff. Fortunately for me, Jean-Jacques and I had been colleagues at Intelligent Product Solutions, so I had an opportunity to go to the source for some questions I had about the development of these faucets.

Below is my Q&A with Jean-Jacques, which I hope is of interest to those of you closely following the rise of 3D printing.

CSJ: Before we get into the details of the American Standard DXV project, can you briefly share your background and your prior experiences using additive manufacturing – 3D printing – technology?

JJL: I am a trained Industrial Designer with a background that spans from private aircraft interiors to consumer electronics. I have been using 3D printing – SLA and SLS mostly – for twenty years, but only for prototyping purposes.

CSJ: You mentioned in a previous exchange that one of the challenges from a traditional industrial design perspective was to “design something one could not make“. For both the industrial designers and makers out there, could you elaborate on your comment?

JJL: When you design an object that will be produced using 3D printing, you are designing without the conventional constrains of manufacturing: draft angles, deep cavities, consistent wall thicknesses, etc. When we started this project, we tried to push as far as we could to find the limits of this new technology – and we did find some! The constrains inherent to DMLS in particular are real, but, still, the level of freedom offered to the designers has no precedent.

CSJ: In comparison to your team’s typical development methodology, did the industrial design process itself change, and if so, in what way?

JJL: We tried not to imitate the approach we follow when designing a conventional faucet using gravity or die casting. Our third design – Shadowbrook – was the most interesting: we first designed the water, then went back to create the faucet.

CSJ: Aside from the obvious need to finish especially complex geometries, would you say fabricating production parts using an additive manufacturing process generally requires more or less labor than traditionally manufactured product? In other words, if one of your traditionally manufactured faucets were transitioned to a metal additive process, would it inherently require more finishing?

JJL: Not necessarily – it mostly depends on how you design it and the intended final finish. A conventional faucet requires polishing – by hand or robot – then plating, which is a multi-stage process. Our 3D printed faucets require breaking the support structures, grinding their traces out, and sand blasting. We decided to go one step further and have an artisan hand finish each of them by giving them what we call a “butler finish.” It mimics the silverware finish left by decades of having the butler shine them… This part takes much longer than our conventional process! But we are investigating various chemical finishes than would eliminate these steps.

CSJ: Did your team encounter any difficulties ensuring tight tolerance areas (e.g. sealing geometry, screw threads, etc.) met American Standard’s requirements?

JJL: All functional surfaces are machined after the printing and cleaning process. Some areas indeed have threads or create seals, and 3D printing today can not achieve the level of tolerance and surface finish required.

CSJ: Can you provide some technical details regarding:

a. which 3D software(s) was used to generate the final industrial design intent?


b. whether or not a haptic interface was utilized?


c. whether or not any additional software was used to manipulate or repair a mesh, and if so, which software?


d. whether other kinds of analysis software besides the computational fluid dynamic solver were used (e.g. an FEA application)?


e. whether or not textures were incorporated directly into the 3D data or were part of the post-fab process (perhaps specified in a CMF document), or both?

The only textures are applied by hand as the last step of our process, just before assembly. They are left to the discretion of the artisan. This is rather unusual for us, but the price of these products made us look at the finishes in a different light. At this level of luxury, one can expect a bespoke aspect to the product.

f. what 3D printing options and fabrication processes were considered and why the team decided on the tools which were used?

DMLS was a logical choice for this type of products.

CSJ: The press release states Selective Laser Sintering is being used; however, because “SLS” is used interchangeably with DLM and EBM, to clarify, did the team use a sintering machine and then fire the part to remove the binder and infiltrate, or did the team use a laser- or electron-beam melting process to create a completely solid part?

JJL: We used a DMLS process – more specifically an EOS printer – and decided to print directly in a stainless steel alloy called Inconel.

CSJ: How did the team evaluate the output of the CFD application? Were intermediary prototypes fabricated, a CG visualization tool used, or some other method/tool incorporated to aid in the user experience evaluation?

JJL: The team rendered the products during the design process, but the real test came when we prototyped each version. They were all printed in Somos using an SLA printer.

CSJ: In reference to the 32% decrease in water usage, was improved water usage a design goal or a happy accident, and could you explain how this improvement was determined?

JJL: This applies to the Shadowbrook: since we are not using an aerator, the amount of water flowing out of the faucet was really linked to the effect we were trying to achieve. it simply resulted in a lower water consumption.

CSJ: What surprised you during this unique project development effort?

JJL: The main surprise was to discover how early we are still in the development of this technology. Our journey was not an easy one, and we are still working out a lot of details.

CSJ: What disappointed you or didn’t meet your expectations of the technology?

JJL: There are some geometry limitations due to the heat generated during the manufacturing process.

CSJ: If you had to do this again, what if anything would you do differently?

JJL: We had to follow a path of discovery/trial and error – I would not do it in any other way.

CSJ: In general, how has the interior design community responded to these cutting edge products?

JJL: The response has been far beyond our wildest expectations. From a press and social media coverage, but also and most importantly from a commercial point of view. These products are very unique and cutting edge, and the market has been responding very strongly.

CSJ: Lastly, can we expect to see additional designs of this nature from American Standard?

JJL: Indeed!

My sincerest thanks to Jean-Jacques for taking time out of his schedule to answer my questions and allowing me to share that information with the public.

Much Ado About Ads

Well, a portion of the Second Life virtual community is up in arms over an article over on the GameDaily website. The article is about the move of real life advertising into games and virtual worlds. Here are some excerpts from it, including bits of an interview with Linden Lab Marketing VP, David Fleck:

“There is a place for anybody to participate,” said Fleck, “including big corporations.”

Currently, Second Life has a program developed by Wells Fargo called Stagecoach Island, which features Wells Fargo ATM machines that give out “Linden Dollars” that can be used to buy products in “Second Life.”

Fleck said he is currently in discussions with other brands about advertising in Second Life and is hopeful that additional deals could be reached by year’s end. He mentioned he would even be open to the idea of using avatars as advertisements.

Of course this has some people screaming bloody murder. Apparently everything changes when the virtual Nike stuff residents covet for their avatars goes from being the product of illegal trademark violations to legitimate content blessed by the brand owner.

Millions of Indie Dozens

BusinessWeek is reporting news of a new independent videogame publisher on the block, Manifesto Games. From the BW article:

According to the press release, Manifesto will employ a digital distribution method to sell its games. The site will offer gamers a place where they “can find ‘the best of the rest,’ the games that the retail channel doesn’t think worth carrying.”

I need to check out the indy game dev boards to see how they’re responding to this “Long Tail” news. Distribution is one topic that seems to come up repeatedly on those forums, so this will doubtlessly make some waves in those ponds. And who knows, we may even see someone take an open-source Quake engine, and sell what would have once been a total conversion. Cool. And can indy game content be far behind?

Into the Light

Crestron touch panel

I caught a short piece over on Appliance Magazine titled “Product Review – Smart Appliances“. For anyone who remembers the media circus when “smart” net-connected appliances were being introduced a few years back (most notably all those cool “Thalia” concept models), you probably understand why my interest was piqued – the hype died so fast I’m not wondering where they packed off their tents and moved to, I’m wondering if the big top caught on fire and burned to the ground. As this 2001 article over on Forbes puts it, “In the decade and a half since, the path to the kitchen of the future has become cluttered with train wrecks.” So much for that I guess.

Meanwhile, in the background it appears there’s still stirrings of life. Not only is the above product by Crestron Electronics interesting in its own right (if kinda ugly), it’s part of a range of offerings by this privately-held company. From Yahoo’s background info webpage:

Crestron Electronics makes systems and software that provide computerized control of audio and video systems. Its products can also control a variety of other items, such as blinds, lighting, and security systems.

A very quick look at the competitive landscape isn’t showing much. One of their competitors, Simtrol, even appears to be tanking in the market based on the stock chart. I don’t get it. When the world is abuzz about mesh networking, why hasn’t home connectivity come back in vogue? After all, “smart” appliances are more than ovens you can turn on from the office PC (or operate remotely via a virtual world interface); they’re also about intelligent use and energy conservation. Given recent events and concerns about energy availability, I have to believe there’s a few more companies under the radar working toward real home electronic integration… ummm… other than Microsoft’s XBox. What with recent developments in solar energy materials and rising interest among the consuming public to outfit their homes to make them more energy-independent, how can there not be something going on? If left up to me, I’d be over in Australia getting to know the teams participating in the 2005 World Solar Challenge. Power management is often cited as the critical component in a successful run of one of those cars. Maybe someone is connecting some dots and we’ll see “smart” appliances make a return. I certainly hope so.

{Image Copyright © Crestron Electronics, Inc.}

A Chainlink Fence Still Has Holes

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island

I just came across an entry over on Clickable Culture that I fully expected to be reading… if not quite so soon. Read the news here. And I’ll just paste in the comment I made over there:

having come across the backdoor on the forums, i assumed LL was allowing residents to take a peek… or something (since the thread was rather long and still open). so i took a peek. and i mostly did so because while my curiousity level wasn’t too high initially, it has been recently piqued by search engine queries sending people looking for “Second+Life+Wells+Fargo+ Stagecoach+crack+password” to my blog.

so much for protected (cyber)spaces. ha.

Oh well, at least I got a few snapshots before the door got bolted closed. I suppose serious code jockeys looking for work might want to keep an eye on the Linden Lab employment page; especially those will backgrounds in security.

{Edit: it appears it’s not quite as bad as Clickable Culture lets on. From the referenced entry:

An obfuscated back door to Stagecoach Island was recently opened by a handful of Second Life residents who quickly found a number of bugs, exploits, and similar glitches–the most serious of which, perhaps, is the ability to transfer items between the Main Grid and Stagecoach Island.

Having read comments from those involved in the project, this appears to have been a kind of beta test – which explains the endorsement of the Lindens when this “back door” was brought to the community’s attention.

However, the beta has revealed some potential issues as reported by CC. But then that’s what a beta is for. That doesn’t mean my expectation for a cracked client won’t go unrealized. I hope it doesn’t happen, but the ease with which the client was recently hacked doesn’t fill me with confidence.}

{Image Copyright © 2005 C. Sven Johnson}