Jun 20, 2015 | By Simon

Between materials that has been approved for being used in space to materials that are made out of discarded e-waste, those who use 3D printers to create their physical objects have never in the history of additive manufacturing had such a wide and varied selection of materials to work with.  Whether the goal is to produce a consumer electronic prototype, a race-ready car part, or even something designed to be implanted into the human body, there’s a material waiting to be used.

But for all of the new material advancements that we’ve seen within the past handful of years, it’s ironic that one of the oldest materials used by humans to create physical objects - clay - has still been yet to truly be adopted by creators in the 3D printing community.  Although there have been some dedicated design engineers who have resorted to creating their own ceramic 3D printers and even Shapeways has offered the material as one of their material options - albeit a pricey option - the use of ceramics in 3D printing is still yet to be truly realized.  

Among others who are dedicated to making the bridge between 3D printing and ceramics easier to navigate is Argillasys, a new ceramics-based 3D printing platform from the UK’s Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at The University of the West of England (UWE), which is based out of Bristol.  

Bristol tea bowl by the renowned designer Peter Ting

The platform’s name alone - Argillasys - is a combination of the latin word for clay “argilla” and “systems”, which explains a lot about their approach towards 3D printing with a material that’s older than mankind itself. Its founders, Stephen Hoskins and David Huson at CFPR have been working on a 3D printed ceramic material since 2007, and they have been through many iterations of 3D printable material since that date.   

The company, who uses a powder deposition process to create the wares, has been actively working alongside Viridis LLC, a supplier of additive manufacturing supplies to develop Viriclay, a 3D printable ceramic material that was developed to be used in ZCorp 3D printers.  Argillasys’ Bristol-based state-of-the-art workshop includes both an extensive amount of 3D printer equipment as well as a wide range of traditional kilns and glazing areas for finalizing the finished 3D printed objects.     

According to the company, their ceramic material is based on tradition porcelain and has more of the characteristics that are commonly found in traditional clay rather than 3D printable ceramic materials that have been used by other 3D printing services.

"Argillasys takes 3D printed ceramics beyond their current status of novelty objects, where the 3D printing is incorporated purely from a demonstration of playing with new technology," says the company.  

"Argillasys produces high quality, unique ceramic items where 3D printing is used to enhance already excellent design."

As of launch time, the company has announced that they are both selling a range of 3D printed designer ceramic items as well as opening the gates for creators themselves to have their own designs created in ceramic materials.   

Among other unique products that the company has made to show off their capabilities include a set of 3D printed self-glazing Egyptian faience animals, which are based upon the original ancient Egyptian techniques used to create the first glazed ceramics over 5,000 years ago.  The Egyptians commonly made these small animal and bird artifacts which were buried alongside humans in tombs.

“We are particularly pleased with our hippos and hedgehogs, what is new to 3D printing is the variation that is achieved between each piece dependent on its place in the kiln and where it was placed in the drying process,” says the company.   

“The colour can vary from a golden brown through to a rich turquoise making each animal unique. The resultant finish is exactly the same as the results that would have been obtained in Egyptian times.”

While it's still too early to say, if Argillasys can encourage a new generation of makers, creators and designers to use ceramics to produce their 3D printed designs using techniques that were first used by ancient Egyptians, we will have effectively come full circle in the evolution of creating physical objects.  



Posted in 3D Printing Services



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