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Ceramicists build their own 3D printer

3D Printing

Students in West Virginia University’s ceramics program have taken technology into their own hands, creating a 3D printer with the help of another 3D printer.

The project came together with help from Bryan Czibesz, a professor at SUNY New Paltz.

“Bryan redesigned a Delta DC ceramic extrusion printer by Jonathan Keep that he found on line on an open source site called Thingverse,” said Kelly O’Briant, a post-doctoral fellow in WVU’s  School of Art and Design. “He redesigned it to be larger, more durable, and easily made using a plastic printer, a computer numerical control CNC machine, and wood shop equipment.”

Here at WVU, ceramics students worked with Shanti Hamburg of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources create the wood parts for the base and top supports, learning to use a manual milling machine and CNC router.

“We ended up using the CNC router courtesy of David DeVallance in the School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Benjamin Groover, manager of network services for the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

“It was quite a process because this is the one machine we don’t have in ceramics,” said O’Briant. “But, it was great because students got to have the experience of networking with other departments, and now those folks are interested in what we are doing.”

With Czibesz’s files, the students printed the plastic parts in WVU’s production ceramics studio with MakerBots and MakerGear printers.

Building the Printer

“When Bryan arrived on Wednesday night, he looked over all of the inventory we’d collected,” O’Briant said. On Thursday morning, we all met at the studio and began assembly.” There were a core group of grads here for the duration and several students who came and went based on class schedules.

By the end of the day Thursday, they had both printers assembled and one printer printing. Students learned how to prepare the porcelain paste, how to control print speed and air pressure in order to control the printer, how to upload their own files and a little software information.

“On Friday, we had the second printer running by mid-day,” O’Briant continued. “Bryan said this group was a little different than many others he does workshops with because the students in this class now have substantial experience with 3D modeling software already.”

Since then, several students have printed on our new printers and they continue to be very excited about it.

“Bryan’s workshop helped the students to gain a concise introduction of the printer’s abilities and the possibilities on how to incorporate 3-D technology into our work by showing examples of his work and others who are working in similar methods,” said George Cho, a graduate student in WVU’s ceramics studio. “His expertise in printing with clay helped to clarify some technical issues and the material process involved in preparations for printing 3-D ceramic object.”

Cho notes that “through virtual design, artists are now able to create forms that were previously impossible to create by hand. As well as creating complex forms, artists can expand their visual language through incorporating 3-D printed pieces with their own work.”

“Each step of ceramic making requires a specialized understanding of materials and processes, and the delta printer is no exception,” said Brandon Schnur, a graduate student in WVU’s ceramics studio. “As a tactile artist, my excitement for hand building a machine that can enrich my ability to do what I already love may seem unexplainable to anyone who doesn’t hold the same kind of affinity for the process.”

While Schnur’s favorite tools will always be his own two hands, he’s intrigued by the potential of a 3D printer to supplement a ceramicist’s work.

“The machine is not here to make your work for you, but it is the equivalent of having a second pan in your kitchen,” Schnur said. “There is no magic pill that you can place into the microwave and receive a full meal, but you can make a much more efficient dinner when you aren’t limited to one pan.”

“Building a printer from the bottom up allows students to gain a deeper understanding of how the machine works and what it can do,” O’Briant said. “It links ceramics to the digital world in a very interesting way. These printers print clay! What more can you ask for from a 3D printer?”