July 21, 2014

3D printing have been around for some years, but the most interesting paste, in our opinion, is clay. The attraction of clay printing is in its potential to use different materials to print out bricks, pottery, sculptures and also large scale pieces of construction. Italian designer and engineer Francesco Pacelli has recently successfully printed objects using mixture of used ground coffee and clay.

Pacelli graduated from The Polytechnic University of Milan, the largest technical university in Italy which offers education courses in product design and materials engineering last year. In November 2013, Pacelli and his professor Marinella Levi and other colleagues opened a laboratory called +LAB within the university to conduct academic research on 3D printing.

Pacelli's research focuses mainly on ceramics. "I think it's a very interesting material to work on, since low-cost 3D printers could become a very useful tool for craftsman to realize complex shapes without moulds." Pacelli said.

During the past weeks Pacelli joined a project called "Ceramic Futures: from Poetry to Science Fiction", the first social project devoted entirely to ceramics. Ceramic Futures involves the participation of four design schools (Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna, École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (EnsAD), ELISAVA and Politecnico di Milano (PoliMi)). The students were asked to explore potential new directions that the world of ceramics may take in the near future based on four themes: to love, to sleep, to walk, to eat. Two days ago they announced the results and Pacelli is one of the winners.

Pacelli's project is called Hoop. The idea is to use recycling food wastes and ceramics materials to 3D print food related drying, storing and cooking devices.

"The goal of my project was to investigate the future scenarios of food (and the potential role of ceramics related to this topic) and I decided to design a series of customized 3D printed bricks and modules to realize complex structures by using a clay based material combined with recycled food wastes." Pacelli told 3ders.org.

"I conducted some experiments on material itself, combining clay powder with food wastes such as coffee powder, dried fruit peels, dried vegetables, paper food packaging, obtaining different composition and properties for each materials. At the moment I am able to 3D print just coffee powder/clay based material because coffee grains (in powder form) can pass through syringe's nozzle without blocking it."

The result of this experiment was very interesting, because it was possible to obtain a better and more precise deposition with food wastes based materials than traditional clay. "I obtained a more precise deposition with coffee/clay material than with simple clay, since coffee make the material less gluey and sequential layers are less influenced by nozzle's passage." Pacelli told us. "I think this is related to atomic packing of coffee powder grains when passing through the 4mm nozzle." The 3D printer he used for his experiments is a PowerWasp Evo with a syringe extruder.

Another important result is related to firing. When the printing process was complete, the objects were exposed to solar light for drying or was fired in ceramic kilns at 1050°C for 9 hours in a local ceramics laboratory. At these high temperatures, the organic components (coffee powder) was burned out and the clay hardened. The final fired material was extremely light and porous, when compared to traditional ceramics. "This could be very interesting for some applications where you need for example lightness and thermal resistance." Pacelli said. "I am very happy about this results and I will keep on experimenting with more materials and larger structures."

This method can be used to fabricate customized devices related to food storing, drying and cooking with complex structures. "In this direction materials and final devices create a circular process where food wastes can be reused in a sustainable way, becoming part of the manufacturing process itself." Pacelli added.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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