I actually didn't realize just how early in the game that I became interested in personal 3D printing. As it turns out, the first beta of the Fab@home design was released in December of 2006, the same month as my first correspondence with Evan.
2006 - First Exploration of the Potential for Ceramic 3D Printing
Here is my email to him...
From: ****@comcast.netAnd, his reply...
Sent: Monday, December 11, 2006 3:16 PM
Subject: Fascinated by the Fab@home project for artwork.
A friend referred me to your web site regarding the Fab@Home project. What is really exciting about this particular project is that you actively encourage experimenting with different materials. I'm wondering if anyone has experimented with ceramic 'slip' or if it's even possible to use.I'm guessing that build time would require relatively long delays between layers to let the slip dry a bit; but, since Native American Pottery uses a coiled technique, the potential might be interesting. Here are some samples of my daughter's artwork that spurred my interest in this regard. They are handbuilt and then carved.The concept of being able to more quickly build ceramic items with undercuts impossible for traditional molding techniques is very intriquing. What do you think?Thanks,Tom Meeks
From: "Evan Malone" <****@cornell.edu>Early Pioneers - Unfold
Subject: RE: Fascinated by the Fab@home project for artwork.
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2006 04:46:01 +0000
Hi Tom,Your daughters ceramics are beautiful I throw a bit myself when I can find the time. I think Fab@Home would be able to make some great artwork with ceramics youd probably need to work with a thick slip, but certainly there is no reason you couldnt use the machine for that. I doubt youd need to wait much between layers either, assuming you had your slip consistency just right. Achieving horizontal cutouts as in your would probably require some support material wax or something similar which would support the overhangs until they dry enough to support themselves/be fired.Id be thrilled to see what could be done!EvanEvan MaloneComputational Synthesis LaboratoryB60 Rhodes Hall (physical)138 Upson Hall (mail/shipping)Cornell UniversityIthaca NY 14853 USA
It's been seven years since that first interchange. Along the way various pioneers have designed 3D printers that could print in clay. Unfold used a RapMan printer from Bits from Bytes (Now part of 3D Systems) to create their syringe-based deposition system clay printer. It did a very nice job. But, it was a hobbyist machine that required users go through what was know as "the build experience" to own one. Unfold appears to have been primarily interested in using their printer to realize their own designs rather than creating a clay printing 3D printer for the wider artisan market.
You can follow the evolution of the Unfold attempts to create an open-source clay printing machine on the Unfold Fab Blog.
While the "build experience" is not my favorite way to enjoy the benefits of 3D printing, I certainly have a great deal of respect for the Fab@home and Unfold pioneers for their contributions to show that ceramic printing was posssible.
Early Pioneers - Figulo
Pioneer Figulo has had even more influence and impact on where we are today in the state of ceramic 3D printing. Like Unfold, they sought a way to print ceramic art; but, took a completely different route to do so. Instead of using a syringe approach, they began their development with a powder based system. While there is not a great deal of information on the process, we can see it in some stage of its development this image.
|Figulo Ceramic Printing Process|
While little is known about the actual specifications of the CeraJet printer or the materials, we do know that the technology that is used in the CeraJet is called "ColorJet printing (CJP)". While this technique can be used to create full color objects, I do not know whether that is the case for the CeraJet, which may rely on the glazing step for final coloring.
What IS important about that technology is that it allows radically new designs to be created by ceramics artists.
The Benefit of Figulo's Experience
By the time that 3D Systems acquired Figulo, the company had been delivering ceramic prints for long enough to have some serious experience in creating materials and techniques. A year ago, they released a video showing some samples of what they printed on their pre-CeraJet printer. Now, remember, these are NOT CeraJet samples. They simply reflect the experience of the new 3D Systems' ceramic print team.
Seven Years Was Worth the Wait!
Who would have dreamed, just seven years ago, that one of the largest manufacturers of high end 3D printers would be today's biggest champion of consumer 3D printing? The day that 3D Systems bought Desktop Factory, I truly thought that was the end of a dream.
I knew that there would be 3D printers in the hands of a few hobbyists; but, I thought the dream of seeing a true consumer "ready-to-print" device was a long, long way off.
The dream was revived with that first announcement by 3D Systems of the Cube 3D printer. It was too good to be true, so I immediately set up a meeting to check it out for myself. When they set it down in front of me, I immediately knew this was what I had waited for all that time. While it may sound overly dramatic now, all I could do was look over every inch of the machine while repeating "This is it. This is it. It's exactly what I had been dreaming about."
Little did I know that day, that less than two years would pass before my REAL dream would see reality!
With this year's CES, the dream that sparked that letter to Evan Malone came to fruition. At last, with the CeraJet, ceramic artisans have a way to create entirely new designs without having to build their own printing platform or tinker with messy syringes.
I am very, very happy with 3D Systems' decision to purchase Figulo and develop a ceramics printer that promises to do so much at such an obtainable cost.
Sometimes, the answers to dreams, long set aside, come not only unexpectedly; but, with dazzling new dreams!
What is YOUR dream?
What is your dream? Is it the ability to print a flying drone with both structural and electrical parts all in one printing? Is it the ability to print objects with both soft and rigid parts all in one printing? Whatever it is, just be patient. 3D Printing... and most likely 3D Systems... will eventually make it possible.