The ceramic 3D printers work similarly to other FDM 3D printers in that they are an additive manufacturing technique that involves building material up in layers.
Some things made possible by ceramic printers
Students at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge, Ontario are bringing a whole new meaning to mixed media as they take on both 3D printing and the use of ancient clay building materials.
"Ikebana Rock’n’Roll is an art collection of 3D printed vases born by the dialogue between Delta WASP 40100 Clay and the artist Andrea Salvatori." - 3D Wasp
"We stepped out of the gallery and into the natural environment by constructing a low-cost, and portable robot, designed to be carried into a site where local soils could be harvested and used immediately to 3D print large scale structures. " - Emerging Objects
"Working with a technique that applies 3D printing to the problem of ceramic and glass compatibility, the group has created an iterative process that allows for rapid testing of materials and form. The results are composite objects that possess integrity toward handmade and digital skills." - Unfold Antwerpen
"Ringató invites participants to interface (we call it “to dance”) with the machine. Participants sit with the printer while the machine prints a particular shape in their hands. The resulting form not only preserves each person’s unique fingerprint and touch but it could not otherwise be made by the machine alone." - Slip Rabbit Studio
Designer Olivier van Herpt and StudioVanBroekhoven exploring textures made by sound vibration while 3D printing clay - Olivier Van Herpt
The team from Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and its Robotic Fabrication Lab of the faculty of architecture worked together to 3D print terra-cotta tiles that will act as artificial reefs.
Never worked with clay before? Not sure what the process is? Read through below for all the info you need to turn your wet piece of clay into a beautiful, functional masterpiece!
If you are already a clay master, skip through to Module 1 to get started on your 3D printing journey.
Before getting started designing or slicing your file you will need to take the size of the nozzle and the corresponding layer height into account. If your layers are too high in relation to the size of your nozzle the clay won’t join together. Whilst layers that are too small run the risk of over-extrusion, pushing too much clay on top of each other, which can cause clogging or ruin prints. Below you will find a guide for recommended layer heights based on the nozzle sizes we have at the DFL.
Similarly to our plastic 3D printers, to print a file on the clay 3D printers you will need an .stl file. This file type can be generated in most 3D Modelling programs, just look for the export button and choose .stl. We recommend Fusion 360 as our 3D Modelling program of choice, if you want to give it a go you can take a look at our CAD Learning Module which will get you started in Fusion!
Other programs such as Solidworks, Rhino or even Tinkercad are also good for creating .stl files...as long as you avoid using Sketchup!
Once you have your .stl file it will need to be cut into layers or slices so that the 3D printer can build it. We use a slicing program called Simplify3D and have pre-programmed all the print settings in this program. Talk to staff when you are ready to print and they can help slice your file.
Slicing programs will generate a new file type known as G-Code. Think of G-code as a set of instructions that tells the printer where to move and how much clay to extrude. This is the file that will be loaded into the clay printers and used to create your designs!
See the video adjacent for a quick into into Simplify3D
The thickness of a print wall is defined by the thickness of the extrusion. For clay extrusion printing you should not give your model a wall thickness. If you do the printer will possibly try and print the inside and outside wall depending on the settings in your slicing software. When modeling for these machines you need just defining a single wall path. If you do want a double, triple or thicker wall this is set in the slicing software. The default will be for the path you draw to be the centre of the extrusion or combination/multiples of extrusions.
A well drawn file produces a good print. Think about the path that the printhead will follow and the more continues that this movement is the cleaner will be your clay print. It is preferable to have a so-called watertight 3D file. By this it is meant that there are no holes in your shape and that all the surfaces form one continuous shell. Slicing programs are improving all the time at dealing with these problems but not all 3D files will slice perfectly.
Support for overhangs made in slicing programs is often not possible to print in clay. The answer is to add support shapes in your 3D model or alter the model. For example if printing a portrait, under the chin often overhangs too much for the layers to build out. In your modelling program build in a narrow 45 degree wedge under the chin that will print and then this can be cut away when the print is finished and the clay gets stiff.
The consistency of the clay is critical when it comes to loading the tubes and for achieving smooth prints. The clay consistency will depend on the machine you wish to use. The PotterBot requires clay slightly wetter than throwing consistency, whilst the Delta Wasp requires clay to be a much wetter, paste consistency.
To prepare clay for use in the 3D PotterBot either;
The clay should just start to stick to your hand when light pressure applied. See the photo adjacent.
To load the clay into the tube, roll it into a cylinder a little bit smaller then the diameter of inside of the tube. Put the loading disk in one end or screw the nozzle on the tube with tape over the end and gently tap the long piece of clay into the tube. Be careful not to damage the nozzle.
The clay for the Delta Wasp needs to be considerably wetter than the clay for the 3D PotterBot. You want to achieve an almost paste consistency - think Nutella! You can do this by introducing water incrementally making sure to mix it thoroughly to avoid lumps of harder clay. Ethyl Alcohol can also be mixed in to improve consistency and help with printing but this is optional.
To load into the canister, scoop in handfuls of clay paste ensuring they are packed down together to prevent air getting trapped.
If you want to learn and/or increase your skills in using any of the machines don't hesitate to come and chat to a friendly Makerspace staff member. Make sure you complete the Badges that the UNSW Makerspace Network has for you!