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.

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.}

Do Not Translate

It appears long time industrial design advocate Bruce Nussbaum is going to be blogging. I’d post this over on Core, but there’s some kind of relationship forming between BW and Core so I’ll not interject. Besides, I’m on record as effectively saying Nussbaum sounds repetitive to me. But hey, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. And I certainly hope he’s right this time about the role of ID. But I also hope he has something new to say that solidifies those convictions and provides indisputable, abundant evidence of their validity. The last time ID was coming into its own corporations decided cheap goods from Asia trumped good design. So anyway, read along with me. Here’s the link.

Oh geeze. On first look it appears he’s jumping on the Claudia Kotchka bandwagon. Not a good sign to me given my previous issue with what I believe to be corporate hype (documented here) .

And he’s only now posting entries on the importance of Blogging (my mention of BW’s mention months ago – which was itself way overdue) and Storytelling (my post on the implications of Seth Godin’s entry on storytelling way back in May)?

This doesn’t bode well.


Silent Revolution handbag

File this one in the “What-goes-round-comes-round” category. Via Josh Spear’s blog I came across an entry that took me to an interesting bit of indy product: Silent Revolution‘s clothing accessories for the hyper-connected cyberculture. The idea behind this start-up being “an effort to create futuristic, minimal bags and clothing reflective of the digital age in which we live.” Okay. But what struck me was how un-cyber these things seemed to me. They didn’t look to me like “minimal, sophisticated, cyber-influenced” bags. They’re nice, but they looked a bit like something else.

What got me in particular was the use of the term “cyber-influenced”. For me the look of all things cyber will probably forever be visually linked to the cover of William Gibson’s short story collection Burning Chrome (the book I owned back in ’88 consisted of only the graphic shown on the new one – no white border and no blown-out hype). That was the look of cyberspace in the mid-80’s when Apple computers were changing the print world with desktop publishing and dot-matrix printouts, frogdesign was designing “Snow White” computer housings for their gear, and videogames were still mostly colorful coin-op machines at arcades that assaulted your auditory system the minute you stepped within earshot. It wasn’t the clean, sophisticated computer-aesthetic of Syd Mead’s earlier Tron work. Nope. The word “cyber” instead evoked the famous first line from Gibson’s first novel Neuromancer, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Cyber has always been a street term – people remixing technology to their own purpose and sometimes even merging with it. For me it’s always sounded dirty and looked noisy. It’s even now slang for virtual sex.

So what do I see when I look at these bags? Interestingly enough, I see pre-cyberspace. I see clean retro computer aesthetics. Stuff from the 70’s. Looking at these designs reminds me of the days when I was coding Fortran, hole-punching cards and sticking them into a card reader to run my program. Is that cyber? I don’t know. Not to me it isn’t. Maybe we need a new description for this aesthetic; a look which I have to admit I see elsewhere. How about PreCyber Retro? We could use another label before everything gets swallowed up into the singularity soup.

{Image source: Silent Revolution}

…and BW on Pro Gaming

Let the (video)game sponsorship frenzy begin! From BW’s article “Pro Gaming Attracting Big Corporate Sponsors“:

PC hardware companies have been sponsoring Counter-Strike teams and individual pro gamers for over seven years, but more general youth-oriented brands and corporations have been slow to catch on to the phenomenon. In fact, last week’s announcement that Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals (makers of Tylenol) was sponsoring pro CS team Ouch is believed to be the first of its kind.

I can’t help but think someone inside Johnson & Johnson has been working feverishly for years trying to convince a bunch of out-of-touch upper management types to do this. This news kinda makes my earlier post on CPL a little more interesting. Wonder if I can create something branded with a fake pain-reliever and let it go head-to-head with Tylenol. Or should that be headache-to-headache? It’s about time corporate America realized the importance of videogames in reaching a portion of their market, I just wonder if they also realize they’re now on a different playing field. Literally and figuratively. This could get interesting.