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Case Studies

Solid free-form fabrication in fired ceramic as a design aid for concept modelling in the ceramic industry

Design case study: Peter Ting – Bristol Teacup.(Download the PDF)

Peter Ting is a leading design and creative consulting with more than 20 years experience working in the luxury goods market. Peter Ting is associated with companies including Royal Crown Derby, Asprey, and Thomas Goode. He is an advisor and member of Board of Trustees to the UK Crafts Council. His creative practice brings together an understanding of traditional materials and craftsmanship in ceramics, glass, and metal, and a strong interest in new digital technologies including computer-aided design and 3D printing. Peter Ting visited the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, in January 2012. He was introduced to the research team in 3D printing, and the team were able demonstrated the UWE ceramic 3D printing process.

Peter Ting expressed a strong interest in working with the UWE team on the development of one or more ceramic pieces which would be designed specifically to explore the potential of 3D printed ceramics. He proposed several design concepts including the pierced, double-walled teapot and teacup designs illustrated in fig 1 and fig 2. Both teapot and teacup are challenging pieces with design features which would be extremely difficult to reproduce by conventional ceramic forming techniques. After some discussions over the feasibility of realising the two designs, the teacup was chosen as the design most suited to the ceramic 3D printing process in its current stage of development.

Fig 1. Peter Ting Teapot Design (2012)

Fig 2. Peter Ting Teacup Design (2012)

Having selected the teacup as a feasible design for fabrication in ceramic, the next stage of development required the 2D design provided by Peter Ting as vector drawings to be translated into a 3D CAD model. The vector file was imported into the 3D modelling software Rhinoceros (Robert McNeel Associates) and the vector curves and lines were used as a basis from which to generate the 3D surface model shown in figure 3.

Fig 3. 3D CAD model of Teacup created in Rhinoceros

At this stage a minimum wall thickness of 3mm was assigned to the teacup model, and 8 internal ribs were added connecting the inner and outer walls to add strength and to help the structure hold its shape during firing. These features are illustrated in the cutaway shown in figure 4.

Figure 4. Cutaway drawing showing double wall design with connecting ribs

As well as creating the teacup itself, the CAD software was used to generate a solid support structure which would support the piece during firing. This was achieved by offsetting the internal surfaces of the teacup by 0.5 mm (figure 5). The teacup and support were built alongside one other in the 3D printer (figure 6). The 3D printed ceramic teacup, together with support, are shown in the kiln prior to firing in figure 7.

Figure 5. (left) Teacup and internal support structure
Figure 6. (right) a Z-Corp 3D printer at work

Figure 6. b 3D printing Teacup and Support

Figure 7. Placing the unfired Teacup and Support in the kiln

The results of the first attempt at firing the teacup are shown in figure 8. The overall shape of the teacup has been reproduced reasonably well, however distortion which has occurred during firing is clearly visible around the foot and in the pierced areas at the front and back of the piece. In order to overcome these problems it was therefore necessary to modify the design by changing the internal structure whilst maintaining as closely as possible the overall form of the piece.


Figure 8. First fired piece showing distortion due to the firing process

The minimum wall thickness of the teacup was increased to 4.5 mm, and the number of ribs connecting the internal and external walls of the piece was increased from 8 to 10 (figure 9)

Figure 9. Internal rib structure of teacup

These modifications proved to be successful in maintaining the shape of the piece during firing, as can be seen in the biscuit-fired piece is shown figures 10 and 11. The overall shape of the piece has been maintained and the distortion has been reduced to a minimum.

Figure 10 and 11: Peter Ting Bristol Teacup biscuit fired

Fig 12. Peter Ting Bristol Teacup coated in porcelain slip and re-fired

In conclusion, we can state that Peter Ting’s Bristol Teacup demonstrates that the ceramic 3D printing process can be exploited to reproduce design features that would be difficult to create using conventionally formed ceramics. It should be noted that some minor design changes were needed, including increasing the wall thickness and adding extra internal ribs, in order to maintain the shape of the piece during firing. As with all fabrication processes, it is necessary to take into account the particular capabilities and constraints of ceramic 3D printing in order to achieve successful results.

The teapot design shown in figure 1 continues to present a real challenge since it would be necessary to support the handle, spout and pierced outer section during firing. One option for achieving this would be to make the pierced sections separately and then assemble the teapot afterwards once the separate pieces have been fired. However, such an approach would remove the “magic” of 3D printing, that is, the ability to make an “impossible” shape as a single piece. Nevertheless, we envisage that with further developments and improvements in the firing performance of the ceramic 3D printing material it will in future be possible to print and fire the teapot as a single piece.

This case study provides evidence that ceramic 3D printing has the potential to extend the range of creative opportunities available to artists and designers for the production of one-off and limited edition ceramic pieces including artworks and design objects.