Kwambio has announced, but not yet released, two new ceramic 3D printers.
3D printing of ceramic materials is currently an underutilized function, as ceramics have very powerful engineering properties that can overcome some of the limitations of the more commonly used thermoplastics. Ceramics have very high heat resistance, as well as resistance to many chemicals. They’re ideal in certain situations.
But to 3D print ceramics, you’re either modifying a thermoplastic printer to extrude clay-like materials through a coarse syringe and nozzle arrangement, or buying a purpose-built ceramic 3D printer.
Kwambio has an answer with their new Ceramo Zero Max and Ceramo Two.
The Ceramo Zero Max is a relatively inexpensive desktop unit (US$5,000) that would be suitable for smaller prints, prototyping and experimentation. It has a build size of 150 x 150 x 150 mm, suitable for smaller 3D objects. What’s most interesting about this device is the small layer size of only 0.1mm. This may sound like a coarse layer size for a thermoplastic device, but in the world of ceramics, which are typically extruded through fat nozzles, 0.1mm is quite small.
Kwambio can achieve this because they don’t use a syringe/nozzle mechanism for deposition. Instead they have a binder jetting approach in which a printhead containing 128 nozzles passes over a bed of powdered material. The water-based binder selectively locks in material to form the object, layer-by-layer.
The inkjet-style binder deposition head also sports an X/Y resolution of 300dpi or a “dot” size of 0.085mm, which, again, is quite small. This enables the Ceramo Zero Max to 3D print very high-resolution ceramic objects.
Once the print completes, there is some post-processing required. The print will be fully buried in non-bound ceramic powder, and will have to be extracted and depowdered. Kwambio has conveniently decided to offer a companion depowdering station for their devices, at a cost of US$2,000.
You’ll also need to fire your ceramic print. This will remove the water-based binder and fuse the ceramic material together to form the final part. Again, Kwambio offers a companion kiln for US$3,000.
There is a significant advantage of using a binder jetting solution rather than extrusion: the non-bound powder surrounds the print, making it entirely possible to 3D print delicate and intricate structures.
However, it’s likely that prints emerging from the device are a bit fragile until they are fired in the kiln, so appropriate care must be provided during post-processing.
For larger ceramic prints, Kwambio offers the new Ceramo Two industrial ceramic printer. This machine is said to operate at twice the speed of their original ceramic 3D printer, the Ceramo One, and includes a “much bigger printing bed” of 400 x 250 x 400 mm.
The Ceramo Two has higher resolution as well, with a 600dpi print head, and either 500 or 1000 jets. This alone will significantly speed up ceramic printing.
The industrial Ceramo Two is a larger machine, weighing in at a huge 352kg and requiring 1kw of electrical power, and its price is listed at US$45,000. The printers are to be released later this year. However, you can still pre-order them at this time.
With lower-cost, high-quality ceramic 3D printing solutions like these from Kwambio hitting the market, it may be time for a lot more experimentation in the use of 3D printed ceramics. Like the revolution that’s occurred in “impossible” to make thermoplastic and metal objects, the same change has yet to occur in the ceramics world.
Perhaps it’s time to get into ceramic 3D printing.