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3D printing with ceramics

University of the West of England (UWE) Center for Fine Print Research

Researchers at the University of the West of England Center for Fine Print Research in the U.K. claim that materials used in an ancient Egyptian technique might work well for 3D printing prototypes of ceramic dinnerware. Printed objects would create their own glaze and need only one firing.

The ancient technique made “faiences,” a special kind of glazed earthenware. Artisans created faiences by mixing ground quartz or sand crystals with sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and copper oxides. Artisans then added water to create a paste, which they shaped by hand into small objects, or poured into a mold. Heating the objects caused them to generate a glaze in the form of thin, hard layers of various colors, depending on the recipe.

According to the Center’s Director Stephen Hoskins, research for 3D printing focuses on functional materials such as UV polymer resins, hot-melted ABS plastics, inkjet binders, or laser-sintered powders. He also says researchers have already 3D printed ceramic objects.

“To understand printing with ceramic, imagine an empty bin with a platform on top that holds a thin layer of ceramic powder,” says Hoskins. “To print a bowl, say, the machine deposits binder in the form of a ring onto the ceramic powder. This forms the first layer of the bowl. The build platform drops slightly and an automated arm pushes more powder onto it, covering everything. The process repeats until the object is complete. Next, the now-full bin of compacted powder is left to dry. After about an hour, researchers lift out the dried block and dust the loose powder off of the object, which is embedded in the middle of the block. They place the object in an oven for drying and then put it in a kiln for firing. Last, researchers glaze the object and refire it at higher temperatures. This method can print complex shapes because powder completely surrounds and supports objects being printed during each step.”

According to Hoskins, the current project offers the theoretical possibility of developing a printed, single-fired, glazed ceramic object — which is impossible with current technology. Needless to say, the Egyptian faiencelike material would reduce the time it currently takes to print prototypes for the ceramics industry.

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.

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