Friday, February 19, 2010

Hello Blogosphere

This blog was originally intended to share our progress with fellow reprappers in modifying a 1000$ Rapman to print clay. But this post was picked up by BoinBoing two days ago and spread to Wired, Makemagazine, Openmaterials, Switched and Open3dp. You've got to love the internet, yeah! We got lots of great responses, questions and emails. For the new visitors that missed the previous discussions in the Reprap forum here and here and some other places we decided to write a follow up on some of the comments and to clarify some things:

-Unfold Fab is a blog by spatial design studio Unfold, check our website to get an impression of what we do.

-We use a Rapman from Bits from Bytes which is an everything-in-on-kit version of the open source RepRap project. Highly recommended machine!

-We will present our research as part of the Designed by Performance show at Z33, Hasselt, Belgium. The installation L'Artisan Electronique will feature a Rapman with Claystruder and a virtual trowing wheel that scans 3d hand movements and generates virtual objects that will be printed at a later time. The installation is a collaboration with Tim Knapen. David Bowen will also show his Growth Modelling Device, a Reprap based installation. More on this show soon.

-Is this the first use of rapid prototyping/manufacturing technology in ceramics? No, definitely not and some bloggers understood the posts title as if this was the first printed ceramic vessel EVER in the history of mankind.... Ceramics has been made before using expensive rapid prototyping machines, there is the work of Marc Ganter's team from U of Washington and John Balistreri from BGSU. Both use Zcorp printers with modified binders and clay powders. Then there is Robocasting which uses a very similar technique to what we are doing: clay extrusion. Also the work done on large scale concrete printers has lots of overlap like Contour Crafting developed by Behrokh Khoshnevis or the concrete printer used by artist Ansih Kapoor made by Factum Arte. There was a post in the pipeline explaining why we are doing extrusion and how it compares to the powder/binder based process, we'll post that in a few days. But as far as I know this the first ceramic vessel done on a sub 1000$ rapid prototyper! :) I think got it right as to the importance of this affordable hackable technology being in the hands of designers:
With reasonably priced 3-D printers hitting the market, and DIY versions becoming more prevalent, we're now entering a very exciting time in which designers are experimenting with the materials they send through their extruders. We wrote back in November about Belgian design outfit Unfold and the Utanalog teapot it displayed at the Bits 'n Pieces Exhibition. Now, Unfold has successfully used its 3-D printer to print an earthen vessel from powdered ceramic material.
-Its not powdered ceramic material as in the Zcorp process. Clay is a suspension of minerals in water and the Zcorp based system kind of makes clay in the print process by adding the binder. We use clay as a print material and we use clay powder just to make clay that always has the same consistency. Sounds high tech to some but this is standard pottery techniques.

-Someone pointed out that it is technically not ceramics until it is fired and he/she was absolutely right but this is corrected as per the previous post ;)

-Can this be smoothed? Sure, dry greenware objects are very easy to sand or you can smooth them when still wet, many options and we'll do some tests on the next prints. We like the traces of 'making' on objects and thats why we left them rough.

Successfully fired

We bisque fired everything at 1000°C and all tests came out of the kiln perfectly which is very encouraging. Air doesn't seem to be to much of a worry. Yes, those are Utah teapots :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The future's here baby! (first successfully printed ceramic vessel)

We took some time to play around and get used to the dynamics of the clay print process. It was also time to step up (or down?) the resolution from 1.9 to 0.8 mm using screw-on luer lock tips. We are also now using powder clay that can be mixed in exact quantities instead of moisturizing chunks of clay. Also figuring out ways of reliably filling the syringes without trapped air. I'm using a similar 60cc syringe where the front is cut off and use this to suck in the clay from the mixing bowl. Then the clay is transferred to the print syringe, this works really well actually.

After some calibrating I decided to print a test design that would be hard to make using conventional techniques: a double walled vessel with fins connecting in- and outside. I was expecting mostly failure but it finished without to much trouble! Due to the restrictions of Skeinforge expecting 3d models, the walls are double filament (1.5mm total). As you can see on the Pleasant3d view there is an outer and inner shell and instead of a line connecting both there are o-loops. Testing a different design now that enables us to test a single filament double wall vessel. But in the end We will need a way to generate tool paths from single walled surfaces instead of solids

Last weekend I talked briefly with Adrian Bowyer after his excellent talk at FOSDEM. I was excited to show him our results after he finished his talk with mentioning ceramics as future possibilities (hence the title, wink, wink)

Now lets pray all together that trapped air bubbles won't make it pop...

More images and video in our gallery [note 04-2015: gallery is gone)

ps. Sorry Erik for the missing reference, its 70 x 70 mm