•The secret to cool bodies and glazes is a lot of testing.
•The secret to know what to test is material and chemistry knowledge.
•The secret to learning from testing is documentation.
•The place to test, do the chemistry and document is an account at https://insight-live.com
•The place to get the knowledge is https://digitalfire.com

Sign-up at https://insight-live.com today.

Data Will Revolutionize Ceramics

Section: General, Subsection: General

Article Text

I have always loved ceramics. There was a time when the art side of it most fascinated me. Throwing big stuff. Trying hundreds of glaze recipes. Selling things I made. But then I learned about the chemistry of glazes. When I started to actually started to see the relationships between ware coming out of the kiln and their chemistry I was hooked. I could control glazes by adjusting their chemistry. Wow. All of a sudden it seemed more logical to fix the specific problems with glazes I had rather than keep starting with new ones (that had new problems). Even formulate them from scratch to match the chemistry profile I wanted using the materials I had. All those undocumented recipes started to look toxic, their trade appeared destructive in many ways. It became a bit of a crusade for me, when opening kilns I soon found myself brushing aside all those pots that were in the way to see the test specimens, measure them, document them, learn from them.

Compare fired glaze melt fluidity balls with their chemistry and lights come on!
10 grams GBMF test balls of these three glazes were fired to cone 6 on porcelain tiles. Notice the difference in the degree of melt? Why? You could just say glaze 2 has more frit and feldspar. But we can dig deeper. Compare the yellow and blue numbers: Glaze 2 and 3 have much more B2O3 (boron, the key flux for cone 6 glazes) and lower SiO2 (silica, it is refractory). That is a better explanation for the much greater melting. But notice that glaze 2 and 3 have the same chemistry, but 3 is melting more? Why? Because of the mineralogy of Gerstley Borate. It yields its boron earlier in the firing, getting the melting started sooner. Notice it also stains the glaze amber, it is not as pure as the frit. Notice the calculated thermal expansion: That greater melting came at a cost, the thermal expansion is alot higher so 2 and 3 glaze will be more likely to craze than G2926B (number 1).

When the first microcomputers came out I recognized them immediately as a tool I could use to automate calculating the chemistry of glazes. Within a year of two I had the first version of Insight going and was selling it by shipping floppy disks in the mail. While I still made pottery constantly, I stopped selling it and started selling the software.

Digitalfire Insight 4.1 running on DOS cerca 1983

Within about 5 years quite powerful database programming languages appeared. I immediately saw the benefits this promised for ceramics: technicians would be able to record large amounts of test and production recipe and material information and be able to much better organize testing results, search and report them. I developed database software for doing this and started selling that via a bulletin board system that used the telephone system. People logged in using acoustic modems to purchase and download. I began to use it in my lab and found myself accumulating tens of thousands of test result records!

Then the internet came along. Again, I saw the ceramic benefits right away. I registered a domain in 1996 and began selling online right away. People downloaded my desktop Insight and Foresight software for Mac, Linux, Windows and DOS. The internet also gave me the opportunity to create the authoring software that creates the Digitalfire Reference Database and focus all my information gathering and discoveries into that.

Then the cloud came. And the smart phone. Both are possible because of the large data warehouses that have been set up around the world. 'Big iron data' has unprecedented reliability and puts rent-as-you-go powerful servers into the hands of anyone. Again, the ceramic possibilities seemed obvious, so I created Insight-live.com. My customers now log in there and work on-line (either on computers or mobile), entering their recipes, materials, firing schedules, pictures (especially the pictures), projects and more. The cloud and mobile devices present a huge leap for my ability to make testing and formulation know-how available to everyone, making it possible for people to start organizing, testing and documenting their development work no matter where they are. The data-store that they create becomes a very valuable asset, one that tells them which roads to abandon, which ones to embrace.

Where am I now? I am less of a chemistry nerd and more of a physics nerd. Now I think more about finding ways to measure things, record and find them later. I think about ways to do side-by-side tests that demonstrate the direction to move, recording the data that proves it. There are so many simple tests we could be doing to give us profound insight into the materials and processes we use. It is very easy to waste decades going down the wrong roads, this is about avoiding that. Cloud data is going to revolutionize ceramics. Universities are going to use group accounts so that all the students and professors work together creating a constantly evolving library of know-how. Companies will be able to globalize their technical data, greatly accelerating the rate at which they can develop products.

Is this your record keeping system?
Keeping your valuable notes like this? Recipes? Test results? Are your pictures lost in a cellphone with no keywords or connections to anything? If you test and develop you need to organize in a way that a book cannot do. Like link recipes to each other and other things like pictures and firing schedules. You need to group test recipes in projects, classify them. Calculate chemistry and mix tickets. Research materials. Do keyword searches. Book and binder records do not do this. Your account at Insight-live.com does!

Through data, potters can reap great benefits, organizing and learning from the things that do and do not work. They will be able to retire those binders and papers that they can never find anyway.

What about my pottery pottery today. I still make it all the time. But it is still not my focus. It is not unusual for me to open my large cone 10 reduction kiln, remove the test specimens and push the car back in leaving it for weeks! But the quality of my ware is benefiting every week from my testing. I still discover more than I ever have and I want to put into your hands the main tool you need to progress: Data. Take away my potter's wheel, my mixer, even my kiln. But do not touch my ability to test and record the data and learn from it!

By Tony Hansen

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