Fluxaxis logo

Ceramic 3D Printing: Aerospace, Automotive and... 'Other'?

While we can’t offer ceramic 3D printing in-house (yet), it is definitely an area that interests us. It’s an exciting application of 3D printing technologies, with powder-based fusion methods having evolved and undergone a lot of research in recent decades.

Mechanically, ceramics are hard and strong. They also have good thermal and chemical stability. They’re versatile and achieve good performance across thermal, optical, electrical and magnetic applications. 3D printing technologies are bringing about something of a revolution in ceramics, enabling the production of highly complex and precise structures that would be nigh on impossible to make using traditional methods.

The Journal of the European Ceramics Society goes into a lot of detail in a report published in Autumn 2018, ‘3D Printing and Ceramics: A Review’. This gives an overview of the various 3D printing technologies used for the manufacturing of ceramic components including slurry-based, powder-based and bulk solid-based methods. It’s a pretty comprehensive read but concludes that aerospace and medical industries look like the most promising areas for ceramic 3D printing.

‘’Industrial mass production can be very challenging, and ceramic components of larger size (e.g. a few metres) remain rare and difficult to produce with 3D printing owing to the characteristic high brittleness and low expansion coefficient of the materials.’’

They go on to add that future advancement should probably lie in the field of material development and process control.

Just this April, The Market Reports published a 100 page report into how ceramic 3D printing is expanding (if you have a spare $3,480.00 and an awful lot of free time, you can download it here). The report intro does mention the following market segments for ceramics: Aerospace & Defence, Healthcare, Automotive, Consumer Goods & Electronics, Manufacturing and Construction, Others.

Now, we find all areas of that list pretty interesting but ‘Others’ sort of pinged out. What are these ‘Others’?

3D printed coral reefs, perhaps? You may have heard about last summer’s partial renovation of a coral reef in the Maldives. The project was carried out by Australian group, Reef Design Labs. It’s the first of its kind on any of the 1,200 islands of the Maldives, each of the artificial reef’s ceramic components was 3D printed with a custom design and then fitted with coral fragments that developers hope will grow across the entire structure.

Definitely an unexpected application of ceramic 3D printing technology and most definitely in the ‘other’ category.

We know from experience here at Fluxaxis and with our sister company, Stage One, that artists often leap on new technology. After all, creative minds and a lack of market-driven inhibitions make artists ideal innovators. Perhaps they come under the heading ‘Other’?

Take a look at the work of artist, Olivier van Herpt. His website explains how he embraces the principles of additive manufacturing, using, for example, a 3D printer that drips instead of expelling its output, creating ‘’ceramics crafted with random imperfections, and pottery shaped by the environment they were made in—these manufactured objects demonstrate how van Herpt reinserts humanity into the man-made machine.’’

Closer to home, we were chatting to artist and maker Michael Eden recently (keep an ear out for the forthcoming ‘Behind the Design’ podcasts from Stage One) and he told us about his work with Boston Ceramics, part of the FIT Additive Manufacturing Group.

In their own words, Boston Ceramics lie at ‘’the intersection of engineering and art’’ and last year, Michael took up a summer residency there. He told us Boston Ceramics had developed a ceramic material for powder printing, the results of which, he found very encouraging.

We asked Michael what he thought he could achieve with ceramic 3D printing:

‘’I could create glazed, finished, fired artworks that I could not produce any other way. It’s that creative freedom again, to create objects that I could not make using any other conventional ceramic process. When we say ceramic 3d printing, there is a bit of a difference between the material that is used in the 3d printed ceramics and the clay that we have downstairs in our workshop here. In 3d printing it’s a technical ceramic, so it’s a zirconium, it’s a refined ceramic material and some of those materials have beautiful qualities in their own right and are perfect for electronics, for the motor industry, for aerospace, but perhaps not suitable for what I would like to do with them which would be to engage with some of the conventional processes that we use in ceramics such as glazing, lustre firing, all the different kinds of decorative finishes that you can achieve.’’

He goes on to say:

‘’I would need to test those technical materials and work out whether they would be suitable for conventional decorative techniques or whether they can be adapted in some way to make them suitable for decorative techniques. I have seen some samples where the objects which were very fine, very small, were like porcelain or Parian, beautiful translucent ceramic that you would need to do nothing to. They were gorgeous. But tiny. And extremely expensive.’’

Are we waiting for the next technological leap?

‘’What encourages me, is that I hear about a number of different companies working on ceramics, developing the technology. That gives me hope.’’

We’ll leave the last word on ceramics to Fluxaxis Production Manager, Jake Augur:

‘’There are machines out there already, I think the closest one you’ll find is going to be the new X-jet machine, that will be available as a product in the next year or so, I think. Really, they’re testing the water, they need to know where the market is for ceramics. In the Additive Manufacturing world, it’s dictated by ‘what does the Aerospace industry need? What does the Automotive industry need? Do they need ceramics? Well, actually, they do. If I want to make rocket nozzles, I want to make them out of ceramics … and then it’s, which band of technology do you go down? In this case with Boston Ceramics its powder-based systems, with the X jet it’s a polyjet like system. It’s coming. I think it’ll be here sooner than we think.’’

Aerospace, Automotive and plenty of ‘Other’.

Lots to look forward to, then!

If you have a project we can help with, get in touch!