3D Printing Ceramics
It is becoming more practical for potters and ceramic artists or entrepreneurs to take on projects never before possible because of the increasing accessibility of 3D printing of ceramic materials or of materials that can act as piece molds or block molds. Objects themselves can be printed directly by extruding layers of a ceramic paste from a nozzle and by fusing powder particles layer-by-layer. This is an additive process as opposed to subtractive where material is cut away from a block to create a 3D object. The latter is more practical for making molds of relief designs for pressing the faces of tiles or for ramp pressing plastic clay.
The computer board on a common RepRap 3D printer
This controls all the stepper motors and the heating element and watches temperature and position sensors. It run open source software that knows how to interpret an STL file. As it reads that file steps the z-axis upward for each slice and then prints that layer by moving the printhead and movable bed for the x and y axes.
The movable printing bed on a common 3D RepRap printer
Objects are printed on a platform that moves along the y-axis. The bed is attached to bushings that run along stainless steel rods. Its position is controlled by a rubber belt that feeds around a pulley in the front and around a gear on a stepper motor at the back. It is heated to prevent printed layers from hardening too rapidly or the piece warping during printing.
The printhead of a common RepRap printer
The assembly consists of stepper motor with its own cooling fan and a heated brass nozzle mounted in a small aluminum block (at the bottom). The nozzle has a heat sensor and its own cooling fan). A plastic filament feeds down through a hole in a laser-cut aluminum spring loaded part. It has an attached roller that forces the filament against a gear fastened to the motor shaft. When the motor steps it pulls in the filament and feeds it down into the heated print head below. The entire head assembly is screwed to a plate that is in turn screwed to bushings that are pulled along the x-axis by a belt controlled by another stepper motor. The computer can thus control the rate of filament feed, the temperature of the nozzle and the x-position of the entire head.
X and Z axis stepper motors on a RepRap printer
In this printer (which is being assembled) the printhead moves along two stainless steel rods (for the x-axis). Its position is controlled by the front top stepper motor (which has a gear through which runs a rubber belt attached to the printhead. The two lower stepper motors with worm gears attached to their shafts control the vertical z-axis position of the printhead assembly. Since the computer controls these motors it can move the head to any position on the x or z axis. Vertical z-movement is slower and more precise since it determines the thickness of each slice to be printed.
Printing a prototype propeller for my Lightnin lab mixer
An example of how handy the ability to print in 3D can be. The worn-out stainless propeller costs $300 to replace. But the size and pitch of the blades is not ideal for the work I do. I can experiment with different configurations and print them in hard plastic, then have a new stainless one printed at shapeways.com when I am ready. These plastic propellers are surprisingly durable and it was easy to print one the with a hole the exact size needed, it fits tight on the shaft and never moves.
Making ceramic tile shapes by 3D printing your own cookie cutters
This was done on an affordable RepRap printer. The red plastic templates were drawn in Illustrator, extruded in Fusion 360 and sliced and printed using Simplify3D (which took about 30 minutes each). The round wooden block was used to press these cookie-cutters into the clay. The plastic wrap made sticking a non issue (and rounds the corners nicely). The clay is a low fire, buff burning talc body (Plainsman L212). Commercial bottled glazes were applied by brushing (in three coats) after bisque. The tiles were fired at cone 03. This is an old classic design that I discovered when researching Damascus tile. The toughest obstacle was learning how to use Fusion 360. It turns out that cookie cutters are a starter project for many 3D software packages, there are lots of videos on making them.
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