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Keen Home's Arbor faceplate - Mathematics, Lasers and Designing Like Nature

Will McLeod Product Stories

Behold, Haeckel Spumellaria, the ultimate inspiration for Arbor's unique pattern.

The road to a customer-ready Arbor faceplate has been longer than we’d hoped, but we’re getting ready to produce. Lesson: working with wood can be challenging - thanks for sticking with us.

Design has always played a central role at Keen Home. Sometimes good design means blending in, but sometimes it means standing out. With a product as unassuming as a vent, we needed a design that could do both. That’s why we wanted to offer early customers something special. Arbor is a striking faceplate that boldly calls attention to the uniqueness of the technology underneath.

Arbor color variations

The tech behind the look

Getting this design ready took some cutting edge design and manufacturing technology. Here's the story of how we did it.

Design - Patterns in nature

The first challenge was to create an organic feeling pattern that both provided sufficient ventilation. Through rigorous testing in our dedicated test home, we figured out some basic design rules. There needs to be a minimum perforation and total cross-sectional of negative space for efficient airflow.

Once the minimum airflow guidelines were established, we looked to nature for inspiration. The repeated cellular pattern of a leaf is a theme that can be found throughout nature. Although it can look random up close, these patterns follow a set of rules just like our faceplates.

Voronois patterns can be found all over the place in nature. Vanes in a leaf, a dragonfly wing, the structure of a radiolarian and the spots on a giraffe all follow the basic rules of Voronoi tessellation

Math can be used to create a pattern from a set of rules. It might seem counterintuitive, but life follows a mathematical pattern to create the myriad patterns we see in nature. In creating Arbor, we used a mathematical pattern called a Voronoi diagram to create a varied cellular structure that follows our ventilation rules while coming together in a shape reminiscent of a leaf.

Voronoi tessellation

Voronoi tessellation has been used to create models of the microstructure of bone tissue, map efficient delivery routes, and uncover the source of viral outbreaks.

The design firm n-e-r-v-o-u-s system uses Voronoi tessellation to create one of a kind jewelry.

N-e-r-v-o-u-s System JewelryJewelry from the designers at n-e-r-v-o-u-s system

For the Smart Vent, we start with a Computer Aided Design ("CAD") program, called Grasshopper, which is designed for work with Voronoi patterns.

A view of the CAD program Grasshopper, built to work with voronoi patterns.A complex system of pattern generators and rules engines drive the automated design in CAD

This system collects inputs in a visual language that drives the rules behind the design. The output is a customizable set of 3D information. The design is adapted in Solidworks (a different CAD tool) to fit the frame for each size faceplate.

Final CAD rendering of an Arbor faceplate

In a Voronoi tessellation, cells are created by placing ‘seeds’ at certain points on a grid and measuring the distance between boundaries around these seeds. Try creating your own Voronoi pattern below:


Manufacture - Lasers at work

Once the design files were created, production could begin. Wood cannot be injection molded like the rest of our faceplates. Each Arbor faceplate has to be individually crafted from a hand-selected cut of bamboo. The exterior gets machined away with a computer controlled 3 axis mill called a CNC machine. But the intricate pattern of the faceplate's interior is too delicate for the mill. Instead, it gets burned away with precision lasers.

Laser engraving of an acrylic sheet - slowed down 10x

A computer guided laser cutter sweeps out a mathematically generated Voronoi pattern to create the organic filigreed detail. Each faceplate is then hand-sanded, stained and varnished to a satin finish.

A lot of love goes into every Keen Home product. We are especially proud to present the Arbor faceplate to our community as it embodies some of our company's core values: design thinking and creative engineering.

Arbor color variations

Faceplates in all four sizes are through final approval at the manufacturers and are going into final production this week.



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