Jan 8, 2018 | By Benedict

Dutch company VormVrij, a creator of clay 3D printers, has 3D printed 1,200 identical cups for Unfold, a studio based in Antwerp, Belgium. The printing, glazing, and shipping of the cups took place over just six weeks.

An order of more than 1,000 units is a piece of cake for manufacturers in the business of casting and molding. For those in the 3D printing industry, however, such a high number can be cause for alarm: it’s no secret that 3D printing is, more often than not, a slower process for mass production than traditional manufacturing technologies, and is generally favored for smaller batches rather than large ones.

Netherlands-based clay 3D printing specialist VormVrij knows the limitations of 3D printing all too well, but was still more than willing to take on an order of 400 3D printed ceramic cups from Unfold, a studio based in the Belgian city of Antwerp. The challenge was clear: get the 400 cups 3D printed, glazed, and shipped within two weeks, and the studio would order 800 further cups across two further batches. 1,200 cups? Game on.

So where does a 3D printing company start when it comes to dealing with a such a large number of units? For VormVrij, the initial outlook was less than ideal: the time constraints of the project meant that fast printing speeds would be required, but the Dutch printing specialist knew that the fastest printing settings could result in problems around the sharp corners of the cups. A compromise had to be reached.

According to VormVrij CEO Yao van den Heerik, balancing speed and accuracy required optimizing the settings of the company’s fleet of LUTUM ceramic 3D printers—not through the toolbars of the printers’ slicing software, but by tackling the G-code directly.

Van den Heerik says VormVrij used “variable print speeds throughout the cups to optimize surface quality while maintaining minimal vibration,” utilizing “dynamic acceleration and deceleration at the start and end of a cup” to reduce 3D printing times to “acceptable levels.” The printers were also programmed to alert the team whenever an individual cup was almost finished, allowing staff to check progress before the next cup started.

Of course, more than one cup could be printed at once—five, to be precise. And with an average layer height of 1 mm, a wall thickness of 3 mm, and printing at speeds varying between 10 and 40 mm per second, a row of five cups could be 3D printed in just over an hour. On top of this, four 3D printers were used simultaneously, which meant around 20 cups could be reeled off in an hour, while quickly swapping out a printer’s plaster print bed for a fresh one, a process which only took around a minute, kept downtime to a minimum.

But in addition to the severe time constraints, there were other factors working against VormVrij. Since the project was to be carried out during a particularly cold November, the ceramic objects weren’t drying out as fast as usual. This meant the team had to speed up the drying process to keep the kilns permanently warm.

Working day and night, VormVrij was able to meet the deadline for the first batch of 400, and actually dedicated most of its time toward post-processing, glazing, and firing and cooling. Then finally, once all the 3D printed cups were wrapped up ready for transport, Dries and Claire from Unfold came to collect them, after which the order for 800 further cups was confirmed.

In total, 1,200 ceramic cups were 3D printed, glazed, and packed up ready for shipment in just six weeks. For both VormVrij and Studio, the process was reason to raise their cups in celebration.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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