The list is getting longer. Ceramics are now among the materials that can be 100% 3D printed. At Euromold in Dusseldorf, DirectIndustry e-magazine met with 3D Ceram, a French company specialized in the 3D printing of ceramic objects.
Marc-Emmanuel Favre, 3D Ceram’s business developer, presented various products created with the same printer for different industries, from prestigious jewellers to car manufacturers. In the automotive sector, the company designs customized interior decoration, such as steering wheel ornaments.
“Our biggest innovation this year is our ability to 3D print large parts. Until now, we were limited to printing only small objects. Now we can make pieces that measure 20 to 25 cm.”
Making ceramics with lasers
3D Ceram uses a laser stereolithography process. The ceramic paste, made of photosensitive resin and ceramic particles, is polymerized by the laser printing process.
“The 3D printer builds thin layers of material, only a dozen microns thick. This gives us a raw piece that we clean before heating it to 1,400°C.”
Because 3D Ceram’s engineers are originally ceramists, their 3D process is close to traditional ceramic manufacturing, including phases of debinding and sintering.
“Our process goes beyond the previous ceramic-based 3D printing process because it includes this heating operation. This step is essential for giving the ceramic all its properties: shock-resistance, scratch-tolerance and hardness. As a result, all our 3D printed objects have the same properties as a ceramic piece that has been injected or molded.”
Advantages of this technique are numerous. First, the printed pieces have a design that would be impossible to reproduce with traditional methods.
“We can print pieces with very complex shapes, which you cannot do with traditional molding. In addition, the molds are expensive to make.”
Another advantage is reduced production time.
“There are 4 to 6 weeks between the order and the delivery of the piece. The traditional process would require a minimum of two months just to make the mold.”
However, one hurdle could be price.
“The printer we use costs about 300,000 euros and the ceramic paste is expensive because the ceramic itself is expensive. This is a very high-class material.”
3D Ceram is now working on new formulas to develop additional colors and to accelerate the production process even more.