From Scale Models to Exhibit Design: Carl Andersen’s 3D Printing Mastery

Paul Sohi May 11, 2021 4 min read

Carl Andersen designs everything from full exhibitions to tiny scale models using Fusion 360 and 3D printing. In this interview, we sit down with the designer to learn more about his process.

The Fusion 360 team is spoiled rotten with an amazing community that is doing incredible work and innovating in exciting ways. Some of our customers even show us ways to use our own tech that hadn’t occurred to anyone at Autodesk before. Carl Andersen is one of those thousands of incredible people.

You may have seen some of Carl’s work on our Instagram, where we shared his incredible scale model of the iconic Eames Lounge Chair. After seeing that, we needed to know more about the man behind the minis. So, we sat down with Carl to chat about his workflow, how he got started, and how he problem solves during his design process.

Carl’s mastery of FFF 3D printing is the result of a procedural chain of events. It all started with the outdoors. Carl has a keen passion for wilderness survival and camping, and as he told us, he was fascinated with how the connectors and joints worked in tents. He was particularly curious about how these collapsible systems enable the erection of large volume objects that can break down into tiny packs. This led him to study industrial design. His initial interest in joinery systems and part standardizations pushed him to design a tablet (yeah, like an iPad) using nothing but extruded aluminum as his final project.

This led him to quickly land a job designing trade show exhibits, utilizing what he had learned about extruded aluminum to build frame-based designs that can interlock together. Carl quickly identified that this method of building trade show exhibits is very limiting because it forces mostly 90-degree connectors. “You can only produce so many styles, so many shapes it’s usually just a flat wall or a square wall,” he explains. This led Carl to 3D printing

“I wanted to be able to arrange the panels in unique ways. 3D printing allowed me to create custom interconnectors to create novel designs.” Carl saw that 3D printing connectors could open up a whole new world of exhibition design, still implementing the aluminum extrusion modular elements, but with custom connectors that are 3D printed to explore new forms and geometries for clients.

“Fusion 360 has been beneficial when I have an idea,” Carl says. “I wanted to be able to draw out build sheets of designs that I’ve done and quickly send them out to the factory floor. The parametric modeling in Fusion makes that very easy to do.”

Custom connectors for exhibition design are great, but if you’ve seen the chair video, you’ll notice that there are a lot of different techniques that leverage 3D printing to achieve the final product. The mini is detail-rich and assembled in a similar way to the real scale chair. “What really got me into it was diorama design.” The Washington Post asked Carl to design a series of dioramas for a short video series called Throwback Thursday. “I made a few different styles of dioramas, both for stop motion, static scenes, and puppet backdrops.”

Carl bought a 3D printer to help with the fine detail work in diorama scenes—like the leaves on a tree or the small bolts inside of an airplane. This addition to his workflow breathed a level of detail rarely seen in scale models by elaborating on details typically lost in scale. “It was very useful when having to repeat elements throughout a scene. I just design one of the elements in Fusion 360 and print multiples.” As he told us, 3D printing opened his mind up to all new as-needed solutions and new design possibilities, including how to think about additive manufacturing as both a creative tool and a functional process.

Carl shared with us how he approaches design problems with 3D printing. He first explores the geometry of making a one-off and then identifies how he could make an entire series of the one-off. “I made it, I saw it, and I thought, ‘How can I make this better? What improvements can I make?'”

What really impresses us about how Carl uses 3D printing is how he strategizes manufacturing. He doesn’t just try to force his machine to do what he wants. Instead, he embraces its capabilities and limitations to produce tooling, jigs, and fixtures. The final product is not just accurate and beautiful, but the process of making everything is efficient too.

In the early iterations of scaled parts, he would try assembly and glue his fingers together. The parts are so small that he needed to find a better solution. “I was able to build the jigs around the exact dimensions and specs. So when you apply the glue, it sits together perfectly. You just hold for four seconds, and it’s good. Whenever I develop something, I have to screw up first—I have to create a rough. I do it really quickly.”

Carl dissects every piece of tech, design process, and challenge, which naturally led him to think about design for additive manufacturing. His work exemplifies what happens when you embrace a manufacturing process for what it is and lean into the material, process, and technology realities. We can’t wait to see what he does next!

Want to be like Carl? Who doesn’t! Download Fusion 360 to get access to a wide range of 3D printing tools so you can design, prototype and make anything.

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