Kai Parthy, the materials innovation guru behind products such as BendLay, Laywoo-D3 and Laybrick, is at it again, this time with a ceramic material he thinks will give potters around the world cause for great joy.
Parthy works out of a garage in Germany and tests material features with a series of home-built tools. In the last couple years, the inventor has gone from developing his materials with standard kitchen devices to blending them in massive machines capable of batches in the hundreds of pounds.
According to Parthy, his latest product, Lay-Ceramic filament, can be used to create objects which can be fired to make hardened pottery.
"I was inspired by enthusiasts like Dries Verbruggen of Unfold who has been working with his porcelain paste extruders for some years now," Parthy said. "I first tried to create a ceramic powder more than two years ago by mixing it into my polymer blends to see what would happen."
According to Parthy, the process goes like this: print out an object with his home Reprap machine, "debinder" the polymer component in a temperature controlled oven or kiln, sinter the remaining mineral object to a hard ceramic by heating it up to 1200°C and then glaze the object with enamels to make it waterproof or decorative.
He says some modifications of a printer are necessary for his material to work – like changing out to a full metal hotend from PRUSA or E3D – as those parts have "short and effective warming zones and good cooling fins."
Parthy says that as the molten filament is very viscous and resistant to being pushed into the hotend, he uses a flexible tube to preheat the filament before pushing it into the hotend to prevent the material from becoming brittle in transit.
As for the heat treatment, Parthy said he uses a kiln he purchased on eBay and a temperature controller for "debindering" his material at temperatures of 250° to 500°C before "sintering" the finished object at around 1200°C.
At this point, he says one problem with his material is that total shrinkage falls in the 20 -25 percent range once the final steps are complete, and he plans to keep working to reduce that value.
Parthy says he also plans to bring some friends on board as the project progresses.
"My next step is to cooperate with my friends from ReprapUniverse," he said. "The father and son team of Franz and Richard Achatz produce Reprap 3D printers in the Netherlands, so it's easy for me to reach them both. They'll adapt the required hardware for printing ceramic into their standard printer, the Prusa i3. We think potters who want a start in 3D printing will be happy to get a printer that's already tuned for ceramic and can also print standard thermoplastics such as PLA and ABS or Nylon."