Ikea have released free, 3D printable additions that allow the general public to ‘hack’ Ikea furniture for ease of use. ThisAbles is a series of designs that are a collaboration between Ikea, Milbat NGO and Access Israel; aimed at improving the quality of life for those with special needs or disabilities.
I’ve been working with 3D printers for several years and I get requests from charities and individuals for this type of thing quite a lot. Making customised additions to hack your life is a popular use for 3d printing – they are perfect for producing affordable solutions in small batches.
For me, Ikea releasing ThisAbles is exciting on a few levels. Firstly, because it brings 3D printing into a major, worldwide store. Secondly because it showcases the ability of 3D printers to make functional products (they get quite a reputation for making trinkets!). Thirdly, after downloading the files you then have to go and find a 3D printer. Assuming most people doing the downloads won’t own one, it will encourage more people to go and find their local makerspace, hackspace or library where they can hire the equipment; and these are all amazing spaces for the community.
And with that mushy sentiment out of the way, I’d just like to point out again that these designs are free to download. A major barrier to entry for people wanting to 3D print something is their ability to 3D model; ThisAbles completely removes that barrier. As for the designs, Ikea hosted a hackathon with product designers and those who have special needs or a disability. In case I’m talking jargon, a hackathon is like a sprint (usually a couple of days) for a group of people to design and make software or hardware. A classic fast-track to innovation that I didn’t expect from Ikea!
Interestingly, the files don’t come with advice on how to print them or suggestions for settings such as % infill, which I would consider fairly important to the functionality of the product. Interestingly, they also have no liability if anything goes wrong – so I suspect that may be why there are no detailed 3D printing instructions. What that says to me is if you’re new to 3D printing, it will probably be easier to send these to an online store like Shapeways.
When I thought about this more, I realised that while you can standardise 3D printers to some extent, you can’t standardise the way people use and maintain them and that may be where the industry needs to catch up. Each printer is maintained differently and can therefore have faults related to the user. How do you make 3D printing consistent enough to be liable and sell products?
That being said, ThisAbles is an amazing project and it’s not over – it seems more designs are yet to be added and you can submit your own problems or ideas here.
Also, check out the new upcoming collection from Ikea, OMEDELBAR, which features some 3D printed products. It’s so great to see them combining 3D printing in the production process and keeping up their innovation with this technology.
A further note, you don’t need 3D printers to hack Ikea furniture! The Ikea Hackers website is a genuine goldmine of projects.