Office furniture manufacturer Steelcase made the extraordinary claim this week that it has “created a new high-performance polymer material that emulates the qualities of carbon fiber at a mass market price.” No more information available—except that it works really well in a new office chair called SILQ.
“The idea behind SILQ comes from our deep belief about design. The visual language, performance language and material composition should come together to create something that’s truly unique,” said James Ludwig, vice president, global design and engineering in a corporate press release. “We took inspiration from aerospace, the motion of a high-performance prosthetic leg and sculpture, among other things, to understand how the combination of advanced materials and shape could create a simple system that is incredibly thin, extremely strong and highly responsive.”
The goal was to replace scores of mechanisms in a chair with a simple structure.
The team first created a premium version of SILQ in carbon fiber. They continued prototyping and said they invented a new material and manufacturing process resulting in a high-performance polymer that behaves like carbon fiber.
“The way SILQ is shaped, what it is made of and the way it performs are inseparable,” continued Ludwig. “We pushed the boundaries of materials science and the material became the mechanism.”
According to Steelcase, “SILQ offers an expansive variety of material combinations, including digital printing options, to allow interior designers to create virtually limitless versions for their clients.”
The chair will be available in the new high-performance polymer as well as carbon fiber. The starting list price for SILQ is $970 and will be available in North America and Asia in Spring of 2018. The carbon fiber version is expected to cost more than $3,000.
No one from Steelcase was available to The Molding Blog to discuss the magic material. But Ludwig told one interviewer “it was developed using computer modeling to ensure it had similar properties to carbon fiber and would function within the chair in the same way.” He also says the chair is manufactured with a twist on injection molding.
Patents applied for, but none published to date.
All-new polymers—particularly one that rivals carbon composites—are not developed via computer modeling. They’re developed by chemists doing painstaking work for years in laboratories. It’s actually been quite a while since an all-new performance polymer has been invented.
Several publications, such as Wired, bought the story. Not so here.