Ever since metal 3D printing became so inexpensive that it could be used on certain luxury goods, designer faucets have piqued the interest of designers and metal 3D printers. Some attempts at commercialization have been made, but mostly they have remained an exercise in style. This is where the new UNIQ-Ǝ comes in! combines 30 years of experience in the sanitary industry with the new design options of additive metal production.
The initiative was launched by Mr Giovanni Pitturru, President of SOSITALIA, a company that has been operating in the heart of the northern Italian faucet industry for over 26 years. Mr. Pitturru’s ongoing efforts to stay one step ahead of the competition resulted in him becoming intrigued by 3D printing technology and learning how AM disrupts many different industries, from prosthetics to basic structural design in the air and aerospace to the manufacture of sports shoes or clothing. “This ‘think it, we’ll print’ concept seems too good to be true, proclaiming that it will achieve everything that traditional production could not achieve,” says Pitturru.
After learning about the possibility of using SLM for metal 3D printing, Pitturru contacted the Mechanical Engineering Department of Politecnico di Milano to confirm a collaboration that would confirm his opinion: the manufacture of metal 3D -Taps.
AM production flows
However, applying AM to faucet production is not synonymous with making prototypes and display models. “Sure, the bizarre designs are mostly achievable, but there are numerous difficulties to overcome since the faucet is a consumer product,” explains Pitturru. “We had to make sure that the tap material met international standards for drinking water and cooking, and that a particular design would not affect the functionality of the tap.
The wonderful UNIQ-Ǝ! Faucets are designed digitally and, of course, prototyped using desktop stereolithography 3D printing. The final parts can be 3D printed in a variety of pure materials, which can add value and exclusivity to any project: this includes AISI 316L stainless steel, EN 1.4404, copper and copper alloys, titanium and titanium alloys, and precious metals such as silver, gold and palladium .
“The biggest challenge we had to face was the finishing, and thus the entire post-processing after the metal faucets were printed. Pitturru continues. “Faucets have always been viewed as a sleek, shiny metal device in bathrooms and kitchens. Aside from a touch of color in the 1980s, chrome plating has dominated the finish requirement for most international customers.
The chrome system currently in use, which includes the use of nickel, is currently strictly regulated around the world as both chrome and nickel can be harmful elements to health and the environment. The UNIQ-Ǝ! The team chose to send a strong message and help protect the environment by not using the electro-galvanic treatments typical of chrome and gold plating.
After four years of research, trial and error, in close support and collaboration with professors and students at Politecnico, the team finally made the breakthrough in realizing how fundamental the AM post-process is. They found a way to successfully finish the taps with the latest technologies in PVD (physical steam disposition) or DLC (diamond-like carbon), which further confirms the sustainability of this high-tech production through the zero emission of dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere. Even the workers work in a safer and healthier environment during production.
A new market on the horizon
After Pitturru presented our products at ISH 2019 in Frankfurt (and more recently at Downtown Design Dubai from November 9th to 14th, 2020), he realized that there is a market for this business that is not just from himself was designed. He decided to found the UNIQ-Ǝ! Brand for service designers, architects and innovators who want to design their own faucet instead of buying what was already available. With the increasing availability of technologies, customization becomes more and more attractive.
Designers, architects, interior designers and innovators are already having a great day with fewer constraints in making their designs, and we can finally say that we have the know-how to meet these demands in bathroom and kitchen faucets even as a one-off production.
“The pieces I’m showing are just a selection of faucets that we designed in-house or that Giorgia Galimberti designed,” says Pitturru. “She belongs to an entirely new category of designers that is evolving with the technological birth and development of this new 3D industry.”
“We are not designers,” clarifies Pitturru. “If we can turn our brushing teeth and face washing faucet into bespoke bathroom gadgets that display personalization by matching other accessories in the domain – by giving credit to the person who designed them by having their name engraved on them the faucet – well, that will completely revolutionize the sanitary fittings industry. “