Uncovered: 4 AXYZ’s Secret 3D Wood Machine

By on March 4th, 2014 in printer, research

Tags: ,

For some time now we’ve been hearing rumors of a mysterious “wood machine” from a mysterious company called “4 AXYZ”. Now we know a lot more about it. 

There have been a few media pieces on the company and its product, but none seem to describe exactly what process is being used. Is it a 3D printer? Is it a CNC machine of some sort? We now know the 4 AXYZ team is composed of six people, including design, engineering, quality control, business management and materials technology skills. 

What we’ve learned is profound. This technology, although not for home use, could likely change furniture manufacturing forever. Imagine local manufacturing of eco-friendly, personally customized furniture in unimaginable designs. 

That’s what 4 AXYZ is all about. 

We spoke with 4 AXYZ’s founder and CEO, Samir Shah, to get a better understanding of what’s going on. 

Fabbaloo: The company name, “4 AXYZ” seems unusual. How is it pronounced? 

Shah: We call ourselves FOUR AXES.  

Fabbaloo: Where are you based and currently doing this work?

Shah: Richmond, BC (Vancouver area). Our work for prototyping was done at a factory overseas, as secretly as possible so far. 

Fabbaloo: When did you come up with the idea for the new process ? Why did you feel the need to do so? 

Shah: We call it additive layered manufacturing and falls under AM rather than 3DP. 

As I read about 3DP over the past 9 years or so, and then researched it over the last 2+ years, I realized that solutions to my industry were likely to be found here.  I also realized that I had to borrow from the general idea since we CANNOT 3D “Print” but we can 3D “build” via additive layered manufacturing. I tested early prototypes by hand on my kitchen table and then we developed the first prototypes about a year ago.

I serve clients in the furniture industry to optimize and maximize in their contexts which allows me deeper insight into current issues plaguing woodworking industry. The industry (for real wood) will die as carpentry skills disappear and become unaffordable. It will remain a hobby unless something is done. That is why panel furniture companies like IKEA are betting on board materials rather than solid wood and that is why our 27 years’ of experience has also brought us to a terrific opportunity.

Our technology and opportunity are both restricted to solid wood. I started looking for a process that allows stronger, faster, cheaper and entirely flexible work in solid wood – without a single skilled carpenter required to do any of the work. That is a HUGE deal in our industry, and its future.

On top of that, we can produce goods wherever the machine is located – this changes the centralized factory business model and allows the distribution to happen before manufacturing. The distribution is merely pre-prepared raw material to the machine, so there is almost no waste, no mess, not handling of logs / slabs / waste and so on. Consistent product pops out each time on any of our machines using that file. Yet, each piece can be customized too.

Fabbaloo: What advantages does the new process offer?

Shah: Besides some of the advantages above listed, there is benefit from the business model. Our individual outposts will cost us around 1.5-2.0M each. So, instead of investing in a centralized plant worth 24M, a new entrant to this business is going to get approximately 12 locations covering a large customer base. This minimizes import, shipping, packaging, handling, inventory etc. in solid wood products. The “smart wood” (with embedded electronics) / multi-material wood with steel, carbon fibre, Kevlar, cork inside / customizing for boats and aircraft / and other such conversations are discussions we are having as people bring us what they see as obvious benefits to them.

Fabbaloo: Can you describe how the process works? 

Shah: Wood is shaved off trees rather than cut into slabs. This material then gets treated in ways we have developed so that it can be prepared for delivery and shipped to our remote machines easily. Once the material arrives there it can be used for whatever one chooses – wood bowls / piano lids / chairs / doors and so on. The technology and the material is designed for that sort of flexibility. The machine draws (like an extrusion of sorts) the prepared layers and places them via a digitally controlled mechanism that is precise up to 1/1000th of an inch. Each layer is built as needed with minimum “excess” material. Then comes the sanding down of the excess material – also done by CNC, but not even close to carving out of blocks. This is a quick fine finish run used only to remove the rough texture. The clear-coat or polish is no different from conventional work. Our wood remained wood at all times with grain, feel, character and strength instead of being made into pulp and powder.

Fabbaloo: What’s stopping you from launching this as a product today? 

Shah: We have already invested close to $300K of our own funds to get here. If we had $2m today, we could get going and the first products would be out in about 6-8 months by our new machine.

It is all about finding funds for the first customized machine. What most people don’t know is that a very high proportion of furniture machinery is NOT ordered off-the-shelf and is customized for each specific factory / customer. Machine manufacturers are quite used to this. In our case our Additive Machine will also be tailored from existing technology. 

Fabbaloo: Who might be the buyers for such a machine? How much do you expect it to cost? 

Shah: These are industrial machines and not desktop consumer tech. They will be approx. 20’ x 15’ in size and produce goods of 8 x 4 x 3 high in size.

B2B: We can use the technology for the construction industry (architects, designers, builders and contractors), for furniture (furniture designers, cabinet makers) and for artefacts (like bowls, lamp stands, trays, etc.).  Further application goes to yacht makers for their interiors, for car panels, for aircraft panels, for smart windows, for hobbyists and more.  Once people get more familiar with the technology, they will come up with their own applications of our invention.

B2C: The idea is to operate machines close to customers and receive their files for production.  Or allow them to tweak files from an online marketplace so we can custom-produce.

Machines could range from $1.5-2.0M and we expect builders / contractors / door makers might buy or lease them from us. For the B2C component, we can create a network of company-owned and/or franchised machines.

Imagine a customer in Toronto, tweaking the design of Milanese designer (per parameters specified by the designer) ordering a piece of furniture for his family for delivery in Sao Paolo.  It would then be produced outside Sao Paolo and delivered inside of 15 days. No international packaging, shipping, damage, etc. No trouble to the designer and no trouble to the customer – with a royalty paid out the designer for his creation.

We don’t happen to have USD$2M to invest at this time, but someone certainly should. This idea is too good to pass by.