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Episode 27 Transcript: Better Swimming through 3D Printed Furniture

The complete transcript for episode 27.

Episode 27 Transcript: Better Swimming through 3D Printed Furniture

Molly Wood Voice-Over:

Welcome to Everybody in the Pool, the podcast for the climate economy. We dive deep into the climate crisis and come up with solutions. I'm Molly Wood.

This week … I make this comment a lot … that you can look around any room you’re in and see 10 to 100 things that could and should be transformed … in order to transition to a more sustainable world. And it turns out you don’t have to cast your eye very far … for this week’s topic … which is furniture.

The materials … creation … transport … and heaven help us disposal of furniture … all generate varying amounts of greenhouse gases that range from not great to pretty terrible … and manufacturers have been exploring ways to make furniture production greener …

Including just … printing it on-site!

Philip Raub:

My name's Philip Raub, and I'm the CEO of model number. // so what we're working on at model number. Wow. A lot actually. But, uh, I think, you know, the, the main, our main focus right now is, uh, you know, we three d uh, print and digitally fabricate furniture

I KNOW! I mean, here’s why, to be clear …

in addition to three D printing furniture, I think one of the, the really important things to highlight is that You know, we really are on a mission, um, to, uh, eliminate waste, uh, in the furniture industry. And so, you know, what we're doing is we're three d printing furniture, you know, using either agricultural waste, uh, of some sort, so non petroleum based plastics.

So, Philip has a nice long background with big retail brands … including Gap and Nintendo … he went to work at Nest … with one of our other former guests … Matt Rogers from Mill … and Tony Fadell … the iPod guy … and then co-founded a chain of innovative retail stores called B8ta … which showcased cool new hardware products … and then B8ta … expanded into this thing called Forum … which was a retail space that specifically showcased sustainable and ethical lifestyle and fashion brands … and that was kind of the aha moment for Philip.

Philip Raub:

We started to work with more mission-driven con, um, companies in the, uh, apparel, lifestyle, brand space.

And I think through that I was like, wow, you know, this is, I think where I think my passion lies. This is how I live my life. This is how my family, you know, we, we operate and the things that we do. Um, about, you know, less consumption, about the type of brands, you know, where we spend kind of our money about, you know, really minimizing waste, um, more of a circular economy. These are all things that were really passionate to me, and I think, you know, in my next role I was like, you know what, I, I, I need to incorporate this more into, you know, what I do every day.

And hence, which, uh, you know, led to model number. Um, uh, and, and I joined, you know, as the CEO back in, uh, 2020.

Molly Wood:

talk to me about waste and this industry specifically and how model number kind of, uh, aims to correct that. Like how big a problem is waste in designing . Building and shipping furniture like you can imagine it's big, but

Philip Raub:


that you can quantify it.

It's huge. I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's a big problem and that you can quantify. I mean, I think just the amount of waste, you know, //

So if you think about part, most of the waste that happens is, is twofold.

One, it is because there's excess inventory in the market. Because you know, you'll see a furniture company, whether it be on both the commercial side or on the residential side. That is, you know, in the same way that like apparel or any other type of, you know, CPG products, you're producing X amount because you think there's gonna be demand.

Well, if there isn't demand, then you have to either dispose of those products at some point in time, or, you know, they sit in a warehouse, they're discounted. You've got people that are buying them, maybe they really don't want them. Then you realize a year later you've, you know, bought this thing because there was a great discount on it, and then you end up, you know, disposing of it.

Um, and so there's so much landfill. I mean, there's just, there's, there's, I think it's like 12 billion, you know, tons of, of, of uh, of um, you know, landfill of, um, you know, product that that ends up in, in landfills e every year. And so I think there's so much focus right now I think on building and building materials. Um, I. Which is obviously a huge, you know, area of opportunity because of, um, you know, makes up I think like 40% of the, the waste. But then you also don't realize then if you're building brand new office buildings and you're building near residential, um, and you're building, you know, hotels and hospitality space, there's a lot of things that also go into it.

And if you think about it, those products typically maybe have a life cycle of, uh, in like in the restaurant industry, it's maybe one to two years in hospitality or in retail or office. You know, it's maybe like five to seven. And what ends up happening is you see this, you know, time and time again, you drive by a, a building and there's a huge, you know, dumpsters out front and people are just disposing of these things

and there really isn't a circular economy, I think for, for, for a lot of these products.

Molly Wood:

So you have, so just to break it down, you have these kind of three aspects that go into it. There's the production itself, there's the materials out of which the furniture is produced, and then there's the disposal.

Philip Raub:

Yeah, absolutely.

Molly Wood:

So, I mean, you.

and is, is model number tackling all three of those or just the first two?

Philip Raub:

A hundred percent. Um, you know, we're, we're looking at it to say, you know, you have to look at the entire lifecycle of kind of what you're doing. So it starts from us with, um, if you, if you kind of take, it's the first piece of it is, is the materiality.

So, um, today. Um, if you look at products, so we use two types of, you know, primarily, um, we are either using some sort of wood, uh, in our products.

Um, and then we're looking also at the, the printed, you know, elements of the products. 'cause what we like to do, and we think the way that kind of creates the warmth of the furniture and, and really makes it functional is by incorporating, you know, both three d printing as well as kind of bringing, you know, some small kind of. You know, aspect of familiarity to, to the product.

And so if we look at our materials in our woods, you know, we were just by the sustainability, um, you know, council for, um, or SFC certified, you know, we were just named, you know, the, the third best furniture company. Um. In the world by, by them. And we were only one point away from being in first place. So, you know, that was, that's something that's really important to us. You know, the way that we, you know, are, um, looking at things from, from kinda start to finish. Uh, when we don't use SFC certified Woods, we're using either reclaimed or salvaged, um, wood, uh. Then on the, the printed side, you know, typically you'll see if there's any plastics that are being used, that they're from petroleum-based plastics.

But we're not doing that. We're taking things, you know, already from agricultural, uh, and bio resins. So essentially, um, we have vendors that extract the sugars from the, um, from the agricultural waste. From there, then that's, um, compounded. Um, so we have two materials. We're using APLA and we're also using ca, which is made from wood. Um, from wood pulp and cotton fibers. And so,

Molly Wood:

So you can, I feel like I, you're so matter of fact about this and people are like, I'm sorry, wait, that you can. And do that

Yes, exactly.

And So

I think,

back up. You can do that

Philip Raub:

you can do that. Um, and it is remarkable, right? I mean, in, in the sense that, you know, that there is this technology around this now and there's people solving these really big problems to say, if you think about how much Food waste, um, exists. Right? And you've had this conversation end with, with Matt,

you at Mill, right?

I mean that, that just, that that is just sitting idle and we're not doing anything with it. Everyone's talking about a, all of this, you know, ocean plastic, but it's a petroleum based and there's actually a lot of toxicity that comes into Um, taking those plastics and then turning it into something, you know, versus with this, it's a, it's a much cleaner process, both for our employees, um, on the manufacturing side, but then also ultimately there's no off-gassing,

you know, on the, on the consumer side. And so there, it's, it is a remarkable type of thing that there's, you know, the, the, the capabilities. Um, to, to do this. And so we're working with, you know, amazing vendors. Um, and, you know, even the, the ca that we're working with, um, is, you know, eventually, uh, we think it's gonna be based from, from our vendors, you know, probably 99% plus, you know, biodegradable.

You know, today it's about like 93, 90 4%, um, you know, biodegradable. 'cause there is some sort of plasticizer because you have to bind the, the, the wood pulp and, and the cotton fibers, you know, together. Um, but

so we like go.

Molly Wood:

C Sorry, what does ca stand for?

Philip Raub:

It's a Clio acetate. So

today it's typically used in, in, in, in, um, in eyewear. So, um, I think probably the most commonplace I've seen it, you know, is either in safe safety eyewear, or even if you went, I think Warby Parker actually on their website there's a, um, there's a video of them kind of cutting, you know, their eyewear, uh, through CNC means not three D printing, but. Anyway, so we, we look at materiality from the first part, right?

To say like, what are the things that we're doing? How are we taking something that already exists and turning it into a product?

And then from there, the story behind it is like, you know, we wanna look to, um, you know, we're small today. Um, you know, so we, we domestically manufacture, um, all of our products here in, uh, uh, in Oakland, California. But the long-term goal is, is that we want to be able to open micro factories very close to Where the end product is gonna end up, right? So that you're manufacturing and you're maybe only moving the product a hundred, 150 miles, ultimately to where the end user is gonna be. So that cuts back on obviously, um, the, uh, the moving of, of product from, from point A to point B, which is, you know, has a, has a pretty, you know, big detrimental impact on, I think. From an environmental perspective. Um, and then it's really eliminating, I think the, the total waste. So it's, you know, we're saying one, if it's made to order or if it's, if we're not holding any inventory, you don't have excess waste. Typically, if it's being made to order or customized in some way, you know, that people, it's something that somebody wants because they're really taking the time and the effort to say no.

Like, I need it to fit this particular need. Um, and so we don't see returns. And then because of that. Um, then ultimately we're saying, okay, well, at the same time, we do wanna ensure that, you know, when you are done with this is that, you know, if it's five years, seven years from now, like we're, we're in the process of implementing, uh, take back programs.

So we'll be able to eventually take back the product from, uh, whether our, our be our corporate clients or even, you know, to consumers. Um, because the, um, the two materials, one we use is, is both recyclable and or, um, compostable. And then the other, the ca ultimately is your biodegradable. So if it ends up in a landfill or you ends up in, uh, in the ocean somehow, you know, eventually it's gonna break down. And, um, and not, you know, cause I think, you know, some of the detriments that we see today with, uh, with petroleum based plastics.

Molly Wood:

Gotcha. Okay, so let's, um, dig a little more into the specific element. So one, you can create micro factories in part because three D printing doesn't take up that much space relative to a huge furniture manufacturing facility, I assume.

How, how big are the, I mean, breaking down again, like things that I think people, people's, I think perception of three D printing is still pretty

Garage based. Um, versus, oh, it turns out you could print a chair or a couch, or a table. Um, so that all by itself might be a revelation to some, but So how big is a micro facility?

Philip Raub:

Yeah. So, you know, we have, uh, our, our micro facility or from our production. Um, standpoint here in Oakland, we're about 5,000 square feet. Um, and so a, uh, industrial size three D printer. Uh, it really, if you kind of think about, you know, what we're, the way we see the long-term vision is if you've, you know, most people I think have seen, you know, whether it be, uh, in, in the movies or in TV shows or, you know, some sort of content, uh, you've seen like what a, um, what a data center looks like, where you just have racks and racks of, um, uh. Of of data being kind of, kind of transmitted with the same thing for us. Is that what we wanna see? Or just where you have three d you know, large industrial three D printers, and so a three D printer, um, is, you know, we, there's two types that you'll typically see. One is a robotic arm. Um, we do not use the robotic arms, you know, we use, uh, or kind of more gantry style enclosures.

So it's, you know, uh, you know, four walls. Um, I'd say, you know, they're roughly, let's call it like maybe 10 by 10, um, feet. And, um, and so the, they're computerized in the sense that, uh, we have like a three D technician or three D engineer who, uh, is just going in programs. Um, the, the, the prince. Then off they go. So, you know, you can imagine you have one person maybe who's managing five, um, three D printers at, at, at a time, at a large scale. And so these things, because they're, you know, they, uh, there's heat enclosures, they can be running, you know, ultimately 24 7. Um, you know, and we've, you know, in talking, uh, you know, we don't have today, um, because again, you know, we're, we're still kind of in that growth stage, but you know, ultimately you can have about 90% uptime. On, on the machines, you know, year round. Uh, so it really, it starts to make the manufacturing process one not as labor intensive. Um, two, uh, depending, you know, like today in our facility, uh, we have, um, both solar and wind, um, through our electric company that is, uh, um, is powering, uh, all of, uh, you know, the energy in, in our building.

So again, there's continue ways that, you know, make that You know, even more, I think, sustainable in nature

and things that we're continuing to, you know, to focus on that make the manufacturing process, you know, much easier. So you can imagine, you can start, you know, 5,000 square feet is not hard to find, right?

I mean, you know,

in parts of the country, you know, there's large, lots of homes that are, that are larger than

I was gonna say, turns out people are buying houses that big, which is crazy,

Yeah, exactly right. Yeah, I mean, I know where, you know, you and I, where we're based. I mean, that's not, not as much, uh, in common, but there's definitely parts of the country where, you know, you know, that's like an average sized house in some cases.

And so, you know, it's not a big facility that we need, you know, to have. Um, and the idea of having these, you know, both, uh, domestically and then ultimately, you know, at a global scale is something that we think is not only Not only do I think this is something that's gonna happen for us, but I think this is gonna start to happen in a lot of different industries.

Molly Wood:

Hmm, this, this kind of microfactory paradigm you mean?


Molly Wood:

Like more hyper-local production, basically.

hyper abso

Philip Raub:

Yeah, exactly. Right, because you, you know, one, depending on the type of product, there's, there is a need I think for, um, we. People want things faster, right? I mean, there's, there's this convenience kind of factor. But at the same time, you know, we saw that some, a lot of the challenges, um, I think that happened, you know, over the last couple of years of getting products, um, you know, out of whether that was out of China or, you know, from a, you know, across kind of the globe shipping containers.

So I think as technology improves, um, you're gonna see a lot of this happen with, um, with manufacturing in general, where I think you're gonna start to see You know, a lot more, um, I think real time as well as, you know, um, so you know, manufacturing much closer to the source.

Molly Wood Voice-Over:

Time for a quick break. When we come back, more on how the furniture is made and oh yeah … what it looks like.

Molly Wood Voice-Over:

Welcome back to Everybody in the Pool. We’re talking with Philip Raub … the CEO of Model Number … which is 3-D printing furniture … out of biodegradable … plastic-free … and recycled wood materials … and on that note …

Molly Wood:

let's talk about the, the feedstock, the actual kind of supply. Side. So you, you said you're working with vendors now who are creating these kind of plastic, uh, petroleum free plastic esque products and wood-based products. How, how dependent are you on that, you know, like when you're citing a manufacturing facility, does there have to be a company making those products locally as well?

Philip Raub:

Uh, ideally, I mean, but there's

Molly Wood:

are you like, I guess I'm, I think in a clumsy way, I'm trying to say, are you also enabling a larger waste to value market?

Philip Raub:

I would hope so over time, I mean, you know, right now I think we are beholden obviously to, you know, to the vendors that do that right now. There is, I think, enough, um, agricultural waste in this country and, and globally.

Um, you know, I think if you look at some of the numbers, I mean, it's pretty astounding, right?

That you, you, you kinda read. I mean, there's, there's, there's so much excess food that's produced, um, globally, you know, to, you know, feed More than feed, you know, the amount of people, even with the growth rate that's, that's happening. The problem is, is it's, it's the way that it's dispersed. And so, you know, in, in, in the US alone, I mean there's just the, the amount of agricultural, you know, waste.

I think that's happening. So we typically get most of our stuff, um, from Midwest and the southeast. Um, just because that's where our vendors are located. But yes, I do think over time that, you know, you can start to, you know, hope that, that we will have, you know, access that to no matter where we go.

Because, you know, I, as I've been looking at, um, kind of international expansion, I've also been having conversations. And so we do know that there's vendors that, that can help us out pretty much in, in any region of the world at

this point. Um, so, you know, and then the idea too is that if you are having that, at least it's, it's being shipped kind of in bulk because the way that it is, the way that we receive it. Is in a form of a, kind of a, a small pellet. So almost if you think of like a, you know, uh, if you think like a pellet, like, you know, almost like from a, I guess some think of a BB gun. I'm trying to kind of think of like, you know, something to kind of, kind of compare it to, um, you know, that's, you know, really what, what they kind of, uh, a little bit maybe of more of a raw form. Um, and then, you know, from that, those are then kind of put into, you know, the extruders and then that's how we heal three d print the product.

Molly Wood:

Um, it's funny that there are this many parts of your business that are this fascinating and we haven't even talked about the furniture yet, which is beautiful.


Like, and then at the end of all of this, there's this like stunning, modern, super cool looking, you know, furniture and accessories. Right. Give us a sense of kind of the product lines that are available.

Philip Raub:

Yeah. Um, you know, we've, we've tinkered a lot and played around with a lot. I think, you know, some, I think really proud of, you know, where, where the team has gotten today. Um, but, you know, we wanted to do things that we felt like from a design perspective, one, were, I think,

challenging a little bit of conventional norms.

So, you know, creating designs that, you know, you can't necessarily Easily do or replicate through, um, mass manufacturing, right? So these might be things you can do very, like one off very artisanal type of, you know, pieces that you can create. It's like some of our, our, our chairs, like the bolster or the Esker chair, um, because of just the designs when you, when people see. The product which we can do, which was a wood print where we can take sawdust or, you know, wood particles and mix it and compound that with our, um, you know, into the three D prints. Some people from afar think it looks like bent plywood, which is, I think, a compliment. Um, and testament to, I think, you know, the, the talented team that we have. And, um, so I, we really look and say design comes first. I mean, if you don't have a well designed product. I don't care what it's made of or what the environmental story is like, people aren't gonna buy it. Right. So you had to, so we, you know, I think there was a, we struggled with that at first in trying to kind of, you know, find kind of that market fit and design and, and um, you know, we were just It's through a lot of hard work. I think now we've gotten to the point where I think we have a very strong com commercially viable product. Um, that is, you know, but again, it's enrooted in just design because what what happened was, I think there's limitations in, in, in the three d printing and, and when you can find, you know, great designers and, and, and engineers who are working together and collaborating to say like, I wanna create this. Amazing piece. This is my design. How do we then actually bring that to life through three D printing versus, Hey, this is what the, the limitations of the software say that it can do, because you might not, you get something great if you work only within what maybe the parameters of what people tell you can do.

And we see that right in life and in business in general where, you know, the, the most innovation happens is when people say, no, I want to conve. We're going to challenge the conventional norms of, you know, what something is telling us we can do and how do we break through that. And I think that's led us to the designs we have today.

So we focus, you know, primarily on seating, uh, lighting, um, tables, which we incorporate. Usually a table base is three D printed and then we'll have some sort of kind of hardwood top, um, and then planters.

Molly Wood:

Right. And then in terms of market, it's it some high-end consumer, but primarily corporate. Is that fair?

Yeah. So I, the vast majority of our business is probably, you know, I would say enterprise. So workplace hospitality, I. You know, we've done some stuff now, we're doing some stuff in, uh, in education. Um, uh, even in healthcare, you're starting to see that there's a, uh, a big, you know, focus to say like, okay, gone are the days of, you know, as, as there's now a big focus on, on mental health. Um, and just healthcare in general. Like, you know, gone are the days of, you know, the bland just stark, um, Doctor's offices or, you know, facilities and things like that to say like, how

do you create something that's more warm or more unique and, and aesthetically pleasing. So, you know, we've had some, um, some breakthroughs in that area. And then, uh, you know, probably, you know, I'd say, let's call it maybe, uh, third, you know, 30% of our business is then, you know, more in the, um, high-end kind of residential sector.

And so, you know, I think that's part, and that's for two reasons. One, I think you really understand that people are appreciating that they want something maybe different or unique, um, that, you know, isn't just something that you would find in, in your typical kind of mass market, um, you know, furniture brand.

And so, you know, we work very closely with a lot of interior designers and architects and, and people in the trade, um, you know, to kind of create, uh, our, our products. So that's where we, we focus, you know, most of the business today.

Molly Wood:

Are people, uh, consumers who are buying, I, I mean, are they buying for sustainability reasons? Like, is that their, is that the driver that leads them there or are they kind of saying, you know, I want the look either is equally valid.

Yep. I think at, at this level it's both.

Um, and I think before we can kinda get into the mass market, uh, eventually, which we, I believe, we'll, we will get there, but you know, the price point, um, that the products are at. Um, you know, you, it, it's really interesting 'cause we've done a lot of research in this area and I, I think consumers will pay a small premium

Molly Wood:


for, um, something that they, you know, kind of deemed to be, you know, quote unquote sustainable. I. But it has its limitations on, on how much they'll pay, right. I mean, and usually it's, you know, maybe it's somewhere in the, depending on the price point, you know, it could be somewhere between maybe 10 and 30%. But, you know, when you start to really say, okay, no, like this, this product is, is, is, um, is, is at a higher, you know, kind of premium because that's, you know, just where we're at from, you know, manufacturing.

But we, we were able to just start, you know, kind of chipping away and we're finding that, you know, the, that Materials, uh, are starting to kind of get cheaper, you know, are, um, we're, we're getting better at what we do. Um, so we can kind of, uh, you know, streamline and, and, uh, you know, some of the products are larger products.

Were taking us 20 plus hours to print, you know, and now, now that same product is around five or six hours because we're just, over time we've just gotten better, um, at what we do. And I think, you know, that, you know, starts to bring the price down. So eventually we think it will start to make that more accessible. Where you don't necessarily have to charge that huge premium, but you know, today we find it's a balance that people love the designs that are unique, but also these are individuals that you know, really believe, and I think kind of what we're doing and, and the story behind it.

Molly Wood:

How, um, give me a sense of, of what price point we're talking. Like I'm looking at the bolster chair. There will be a picture of this on the website and on the social channels, um, which is sort of a, you know, this beautiful chair with like a nice hollow center and a lovely bolster pillow. Like how much would that cost?

Philip Raub:

Yeah. I mean, the bolster chair, you know, retails for, you know, Just under, uh, like $2,000.

So, you know, again, it has a, has a premium, um, to it. Uh, but, you know, again,

I mean, here's a product

Molly Wood:

chair. That's still like, that's still within reach of design. Within Reach

Philip Raub:

yeah. Yes. Again, it's, yes. This isn't, um, uh. You know, I think a piece that, that's gonna run you, you know, like $10,000 by any

means it's accessible. Right. You know, but it's, but we know that, you know, it, it definitely plays on, on the, kind of the higher side of, of the premium. And we do, you know, we have some custom products, right.

You know, like if you wanted like a custom dining room or conference room table, I mean, you might be talking like $20,000. So,

you know, it's, it's definitely, um, you know, on a little bit on the higher end. Um, but, uh, it, but I think, you know, like you said, I think the chairs that we have, Um, and the products, it also too depends if it's something is all, is a hundred percent three D printed, it's actually cheaper for us to make than if it has wood because there is some wood, there is some labor component that is, uh, involved in anything with wood because we have to, um, uh, to assemble, you know, the product versus like the bolster.

And, and that's why we're also moving towards a lot more of just the whole, the wholly three D printed pieces because, you know, we can bring the price point down and make it more accessible. Um, you know, in the categories like we have for lighting and some of the seeding and planters as well.

Molly Wood Voice-Over:

Philip told me the company is still working on how it quantifies the carbon footprint of its products … but they’re labeled net zero on the website … because they’re not made from any new materials … and they power their micro-plant with renewable energy …

he also says the company is experimenting making products that come in a black coating that actually sequesters carbon … and any colors … are created using non-toxic dyes.

You can see the designs and contact the company at model-slash-no … en - oh … dot com …

And we’ve got some pictures and video up on our instagram … which you can find AT in the pool pod … so you can peek at that while you’re listening as like a visual guide. And also a plug for the instagram channel which you should totally subscribe to.

And on the topic of sustainable furniture that isn’t … at the Design Within Reach price point …

In researching this episode I found out that IKEA … has actually committed to being climate POSITIVE … whatever that means … net zero maybe? By 2030 …

And has been testing a furniture rental program … like Rent the Runway but for furniture … and several other retailers … are doing the same thing! More details on that in the show notes … or at everybody in the pool dot com.

That's it for this episode of Everybody in the Pool. Thank you so much for listening.

Email me your thoughts and suggestions to in at everybody in the pool dot com and find all the latest episodes and more at everybody in the pool dot com, the website.

And if you want to become a subscriber and get an ad free version of the show, hit the link in the description in your podcast app of choice.

Thank you to those of you who already have.

We will be OFF for the Thanksgiving holiday because NORMALIZE TAKING HOLIDAYS, PEOPLE … but back the week after with a whole new episode. Enjoy the family time … and the tofurkey amirite … and see you then.

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