3D Printing ceramics, how does this technology work?

3D Printed ceramic egg cups by Bert De Niel Ceramics

3D Printing technologies are evolving quickly and already play an important role in the areas of aerospace and automotive, as well as in the medical world. The technological process can of course also be used for fun, as i.materialise’s 3D Printing ceramics process shows.

3D Printing ceramics

The printers that i.materialise uses for 3D Printing ceramics are fueled with a special, ultra-fine alumina silica ceramic powder. To create ceramic prints, an industrial-grade printing technology is used. A 3D ceramic model is built one layer at a time, starting at the bottom. After the printer’s rolling mechanism has spread a very thin layer of ceramic powder on a basis, a print head places organic binder at specified locations. This process is repeated until the 3D design is printed completely.

3D printing ceramics: powder and binder, layer by layer
3D printing ceramics: powder and binder, layer by layer

As with ‘normal’ ceramics, the model now has to be ‘baked’, so after the model has bathed in ultrafine powder, it is put into a drying oven to strengthen the material. The model will however still be fragile after this process and the state it is in afterwards is called the ‘green state’.

Once dry, the excess powder is removed from the model and it is now ready to get fired in an oven to really gain some strength. At this point, a pre-glaze coating is applied, which is dried and then fired another time. The last step involves one more glazing and firing session so that the model gets a smooth and glossy coating in a multitude of possible colours.