Material Science Part 7: Ceramics – Not Only for Fine Arts

In Archive by trinckle team

Have you ever dreamt of getting your very own custom-made mug or a whole table set? Do you live in an old house and one of your ceramic fuses is broken? 3D printed ceramics might be your solution. Why? Read here:

Ceramics – A  delicate plant

Ceramics as a material is not easy to provide. Nevertheless, ceramics is one of the most ancient industries on the planet. Around 24,000 BC, the first animal and human figurines were made from clay and other materials, then fired in ‚ground’ kilns. Glazed figurines can be dated back to Egypt in 1,500 BC. Today, ceramics is mostly used in areas where other materials can’t perform with a certain level of reliability, or in the forensic area (e.g. see picture of the reconstructed skull) and of course in your kitchens, but we would call this more pottery. When scientists decided to try to print ceramics, the material posed quite a challenge to them due to its delicate level of density and stability.
The printing of ceramics is mostly performed with a so-called Zprinter and a process described as Lithography-based Ceramic Manufacturing (LCM). The print is carried out layer by layer, that means the model is built up from bottom to top. The technology is based on the selective curing of a photosensitive resin, which contains homogeneously dispersed ceramic particles. The process from the model to the final product can be divided in 4 steps:

Step 1: Printing Process

A roller puts a thin layer of ceramic powder on a platform and a print head places organic binder at specific locations, printing a thin layer of your model. In a next step, the platform lowers and the roller spreads another layer of powder. This process is repeated until your model is finished.

Step 2: Removal from Batch

The printed object is carefully removed by hand from the batch. The excess powder from the print is saved for a future print.

Step 3: Cleaning and Gluing

Here, powder that can not be removed by hand is removed with the help of pressurized air. Afterwards, the printed object is bathed in a binding liquid, which further solidifies the object.

Step 4: Glazing and Kilning

At last, the object is placed for further solicitation in an oven. From there, two more layers of glaze again cover the object, before it is kilned one last time at a temperature of around 1,000 °C. Finally, the object is solid and ready to be shipped.

Advantages:

  • Very shiny
  • Very smooth
  • High thermal resistance
  • High level of water repellency
  • High level of food safety
  • Wide variety of colors

Limitations:

  • No possibility to 3D print a file containing several objects
  • High level of 3D designing skills necessary (consideration of shrinking percentage and glazing thickness)
  • Low level of wall thinness due to material
  • Not appropriate for designs with very specific details
  • Relatively high costs compared to nylons or ABS
  • Long production time

Application Areas:

  • Electronic semiconductor industry
  • Automotive industry (e.g. diesel particulate filter)
  • Special purpose machine manufacture
  • Medtech (implants, dental prostheses, heart ticker)
  • Textile industry
  • Product design
  • Jewelry manufacturing
  • Houseware manufacturing

Best Practice in 3D-Printing:
Ceramics is ideally suited to processing technologies such as laser sintering due to the following characteristics:

  • Resistant to extremely high temperatures
  • Reliable in contaminated or heavily used surroundings
  • Extremely high rigidity
  • High level of biocompatibility
  • No need for supporting material
  • Possibility of finishing techniques, e.g. coloration and glazing

Preferred for models such as:

  • Prototypes that need to be smooth and shine
  • Prototypes for art and design projects
  • Small series, e.g jewelry or tableware
  • Models and parts that need to have a high thermal resistance
  • Models that need to be heat resistant
  • Models that need to be food safe
  • Models that need to be water-resistant

Ceramics is still a niche material in 3D printing. It will be interesting to observe its potential markets in the next 5 years. Let us know if you think ceramics already made its way through, here or on FB or twitter.

For more information on materials read here:
Material Science Part 1: Polyamide (PA11) – Have You Ever Wondered What Nylons, Toothbrushes and 3D Printed Designs in SLS Have in Common?
Material Science Part 2: Polyamide (PA 12) – A Boring Material or Actually a Game of Fire and Glass?
Material Science Part 3: Polyamide (PA 6) – PA 6- Some Polyamides Like It Hot to Get in Shape
Material Science Part 4: ABS – PLA – the Magnificent Two
Material Science Part 5: Alumide – the ‘Hot Dog’ in the Polyamide Family
Material Science Part 6: Silver – the Most Precious of Them All

written by

trinckle team

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