Monday, September 3, 2012

3D PRINTING IN PERTH CIT, a continuing story.

Left an early trial 3D print in clay (unfired) , right, a plastic 'raft' printed by 3D printer

The blogging mojo has been absent in the past couple of weeks due to plain busyness, and yet, of course, so much has been going on in my world.  For one thing teaching at CIT ceramics department has been a wonderful challenge and I am loving being part of the place.  The students are a great bunch and often surprise themselves when they dredge up a previously unknown resourcefulness or ability to put into their clay work.  I loaded a kiln last week full of their handmade teapots and boxes, we are moving onto Wall Art now and making simple drop moulds to replicate their  forms with. 

Meanwhile Graham Hay continues with his residency at CIT and tweaks and twiddles with the 3D printer CIT recently purchased.  It came in kit form and took a while to build. I imagine a ready made one would have cost a lot more given how many man hours went into building it.  The 3D printer was designed to print with a low temperature meltable plastic, this is fed into the printer from what looks like a roll of cable – but the cable is in fact the plastic consumable it prints with. 

In normal parlance the concept of printing entails the laying down of an ‘ink’ of some kind onto a flat substrate – usually paper.  The ink sits on the substrate and dries whether it is a screen print or an inkjet or laserjet of text or images.  Sometimes an ink or paint is printed where we can see and feel the change in surface where the ink sits upon the surface. 

In the case of 3D we are printing but layer upon layer and building upwards from the horizontal plane into a 3D form instead of across a flat 2D surface. 

There were weeks of calibrating our 3D printer and once that was done the hard part now starts.  Now the development of a suitable clay body is underway, one that will pipe through the printer under gentle hydraulic pressure – there is a large pressurised air pump attached.  So as well as the 3D printer a source of compressed air plus a computer are required to make anything happen.  The printed/extruded/piped clay mustn’t be too liquid or it will flop and flow, but must be soft enough to extrude and sit upon itself to build up layer upon layer to create a 3D form. 

I am assuming that you dear reader are smart enough to ‘get it’ if I threw in some hi tech terminology, I am putting this all into my own ‘laymans terms’ to try to explain it. 

So the printed clay, think of a coil pot but the printer is placing the mini ‘coils’, has to hold itself up and take weight while the printer head moves around the form laying down the clay – as directed by the computer.  Personally I find this whole subject completely fascinating.  I love modern technology and materials and I literally lie in bed at night thinking of what the printer might make and what might make the perfect clay composition to work best.  

Here is a short clip of me asking Graham about the printer.

There have been lots of trials and observations of the result of each tweak and change.  Graham lays out the tangible evidence of each test print in sequence on the long table at his station in the ceramics area to be handled and noted, prompting enthusiastic interest and discussion. 

 More – as it happens! 

Now, although I have missed the Mud Colony deadline – let’s hop over there anyhow and see what the other clay bloggers have been doing.  


  1. Hey Elaine, thanks for that vid was RAD !
    There was a 3D printer at Design Made looked like SUCH great fun ..lucky
    you & CIT....

  2. thanks for the update Elaine :^) sharing to my Facebook Group...

  3. Caloundra Regional Gallery has a 3D printer and a local artist Corrie Wright did a residency to explore it, she's not a potter, but made some neat things, especially using repetition. Did you know that there is an adaptation using slip, there was a video on Facebook some time ago. It was really interesting. The potential of these printers is limitless - especially for bespoke plastic parts. They are not very expensive to buy either - and it opens up discussion about groups sharing resources such as these, possibly being at the local library for the community to use... hmmmm.

  4. Hi there,
    Thanks for this interesting and important post. This is the information I was looking for. I like the way things are being executed and discussed here.