Tom Dixon / Trumpf / Kammetal
“When I started in making things myself in the ‘80s, there just wasn’t a way for a designer to access manufacturing without spending a lot of money on tooling or waiting for a rich German or Italian manufacturing company to pick them up,” said Tom Dixon, the London-based product designer. “Now it’s possible for almost any designer to create a product and have it manufactured in a very industrial way, in small, medium, or large quantities.”
Dixon plans to prove that point at this year’s ICFF, where he’ll oversee a pop-up factory developed in collaboration with the U.S. office of Trumpf, a global manufacturer of lasers and fabrication equipment, and the Brooklyn-based fabricator Kammetal. Trumpf’s massive metal-stamping robots will be trundled in from Connecticut and take their place on the showroom floor of the Javits Center, generating a series of products that range from the everyday to the spectacular. Fairgoers can watch a Dixon-designed scale ruler come to life before their eyes (and pop one in their bag to take home), or perhaps get a glimpse of the production of the Punch Ball XL Pendant, squares of stamped metal riveted together to create a delicate, faceted lamp nine-feet in diameter.
Dixon had been searching for a machinist company partner for years before he found one in the Germany division of Trumpf, who was game to work with the designer on an insta-restaurant at last year’s furniture fair in Milan, producing 500 lamps and 200 chairs with matching tables on the spot. “People move around trade fairs very quickly, looking at loads of booths, possibly stopping for a quick chat. What was nice about the project in Milan was that people slowed down and actually stood there—sometimes with their mouths open—for 20 minutes or more.” The Milan endeavor inspired Dixon to export the concept to the U.S. “The western consumer is particularly divorced from any connection with how things are made, whether that’s food they consume the chair they sit on. But I think people want to see where things are coming from. There is something really nice about seeing the process behind an object,” noted Dixon, comparing his installation to an open kitchen in a restaurant.
In addition to being enthralled by the process of making himself, Dixon, who spent two years as a bass guitarist in a disco band, admits that he also likes the performative aspect of the planned ICFF installation. “It doesn’t mater if it’s a food processor being demonstrated in a department store or a craftsperson weaving baskets at a craft fair, I always loved seeing things evolve and being made in front of your eyes. I like the idea of thinking of design more as a performance rather than just a product to stick on a pedestal.” To that end, smaller scale versions of the Punch Ball Pendants will be rolling off the production line all week, part of Dixon’s new Bespoke division of on-demand products.
Kammetal, who will have two or three staffers on site throughout ICFF, used the 3-D modeling software SolidWorks for the fabrication of the Punch Ball series. Aluminum sheets 48 x 96 inches will first be fed into Trumpf’s laser-cutting machine, where lasers will spend up to one hour burning patterns into the metal; next, a pressing machine will break and bend the form into individual panels over the course of 15 minutes; finally, 12 panels will be hand-assembled to create a small Punch Ball Pendant. Of the real-time process, Sam Kusak, president and co-owner of Kammetal, said, “We don’t know how long assembly will take because we haven’t done it yet, but we’re looking forward to being there and interacting with people.”
With his bit of design fair theater, Dixon ultimately hopes to inspire designers and local manufacturing. “The message is really get on with it and do it yourself. It’s possible for everybody to design now,” he said.