Lateral thinking and applying years of expertise to 3D printing technology and its functions has made Chalk a compelling company to write about.
Based just off the leafy Essex Road in Islington, Chalk is a compact operation, which provides high-res 3D printing, digital sculpting, CNC milling, CAD preparation and drawing, and laser cutting on the back of a quarter of a century's design experience.
We met with Directors Simon Hamnell and Mark Lim and Product Manager Courtney Cornelius to find out more about their fascinating projects and how they are using their years of knowhow to push 3D printing further and further.
The best of 3D printing
One of the major themes TCT picked up on over the course of our visit to London was that the medium is perfect for certain builds and projects, but in some cases, traditional manufacturing or design methods can be better.
As such, the crucial point 3D print users such as Chalk are trying to make is that when expertise and a true understanding of the technique is applied, the end products can be very exciting.
Hamnell explained: "People are just starting to come to terms with what 3D printing is, and it’s something that we've been working with for years."
Lim added that he and his colleagues are used to prospective clients coming to them and requesting things to be 3D printed, but the professionals at Chalk know their materials and they know 3D printing, and so if 3D printing is not the perfect fit for a client's specification then they will advise them accordingly.
"Quality is very important," Hamnell noted.
"When you spend the sort of time we do with the technology - years - you understand when an object is suited to 3D printing. We are now completely au fait with the work we do and we know what we are going to get back from the 3D printer."
Hamnell's background is in architectural modelmaking and the expert is also Director of Millennium Models, which specialises in this field. Around 60 per cent of Chalk's clients are architectural as well, but the company also takes on projects from customers in other sectors. Hamnell feels strongly that 3D printing as an emerging technology should be more open to enable users to master it, with users adopting a different attitude to sharing their knowledge to move the technique forward.
Lim explained that Chalk's modelmaking background has allowed its staff to gain valuable expertise when applying 3D printing to these projects and, as such, they have been able to push the technology further than others.
The Chalk designers showed us a feather their Z Corp machine produced to demonstrate how their experimentation has stretched the limits of what the 3D printer can do. The feather tapered to tracing paper-thinness and was as light as the proverbial. It had been delicately spray-painted to make what was a truly remarkable piece that is worlds away from the plastic items we are used to seeing as examples of the fruits of 3D printing.
But it is this capability the wider market is less aware of, particularly as the media is still fascinated by the novelties 3D printers can produce.
Chalk takes pride in its expertise and its approach to working. Lim noted that neither he nor his colleagues likes to "set parameters, saying what will and will not work".
He noted: "If you start setting parameters, you limit what work you can do."
Hamnell remarked: "It's that cross-fertilisation about what you plan for something and using that experience to help the next person."
"It's about saying we will spend the time. We will give customers that service and take the time," Cornelius added.
But what about Chalk's position in the growing marketplace? The company's knowledge and reputation cannot be questioned, but as the profile of 3D printing and its applications is raised, is the company concerned about competition?
Lim said: "In terms of competition, I think we are quite unique. I have much to say about our skillset and the full range of equipment we have to offer."
But, he noted Chalk has sensed rivalry from one side of the market - the universities.
"Often, the people that are the biggest threat in terms of competition are the universities. This is because they have so much technology."
He explained that universities are supported by government funding and have access to top-of-the-range equipment and are being encouraged to compete in the industry so they can bring in more funding.
"You could get a massive company going to a university because it's being subsidised," Lim remarked, "But with us, you get people who are more willing to spend time on the job, while you get somebody who is a professional."
Hamnell added that Chalk's central location also enhances its position in the market, as many of its competitors, he stated, are based outside of the M25.
Fantastic location and impressive portfolio aside, Chalk's greatest asset is its staff of professional designers who truly understand the materials they work with and take ownership of every project.
What is so great about this bustling London studio is it does not jealously guard its craftsmanship, instead sharing its knowledge to ensure better quality products. Indeed, Lim has started lecturing at Central St Martins about 3D printing software and its architectural applications.
"We're doing more with individuals about how the technology can be used," Cornelius noted.
"We have professionals and students come by to learn from us. Ultimately, we are more professional than some - and that has not gone unnoticed," Hamnell concluded.