For thousands of years, casting aqueous substances and drying them into usable forms has been a core technique in manufacturing, and one of the greatest advancements made in human technology. From ceramics and metals to glass and plastics, countless methods of casting have been invented to exhume objects from molds over the millennia. But unfortunately, many of these methods have become forgotten as industry has made things more efficient on a massive scale. This is not, by any means, to say that modern manufacturing has killed the craftsperson, but in some ways, it often does keep us jaded from the inspiration that can be derived from ancient processes.
The fundamental goal of manufacturing is to add value to raw materials by turning them into useful or beautiful forms, and the way that Industrial Designer Julien Carretero has chosen to do this in his STENCIL project might describe that definition in its purest form. Carretero has conceived an ultra-low cost way of forming molten aluminum by pouring it into fabric molds, and the results are intriguing. Using a heat-resistant mesh fabric similar to that which one might find on a fire hose, fire blanket, or, fire curtain (that fiberglassy kevlar-looking stuff), Carretero has proved an impressive level of casting control for his process, which involves pouring liquidus aluminum into prepared molds of the fabric mesh material.
Most of Carretero’s work is focused-on minimizing process, infrastructure, and materials costs, all in the greater interest of making manufacturing more feasible and economically-sensible. It is the sort-of grassroots ingenuity that we have recently been seeing more of in developing nations, as disposable packaging and other waste has has displaced an abundance of raw materials such as aluminum. The neat part about STENCIL is that the molds themselves are immediately re-usable, as is any of the excess aluminum scrap. In much of his work, Carretero is passionate about the idea of scalable production, with the attitude that each piece retains a unique and organic signature–an attitude which blends well with home-grown process innovation.
At this point, Carretero’s STENCIL products have been exclusively furniture-oriented, but the versatility of his conception could clearly be applied to other areas of design and manufacturing. Casting aluminum without costly molding materials and specialized engineering knowledge is a pretty neat thing, and it will be interesting to see how the process evolves in the future. Like 3D printing, anyone is capable of doing this, and it is that mindset that will continue to allow the everyman to solve the sorts of challenges that corporations are often too busy to identify.
(All Images via Julien Carretero)