Potter makes a jug out of clay
January 2, 2016

New technique allows for 3D printed ceramics

Ceramics are capable of withstanding a ridiculous amount of heat and pressure without suffering significant damage, leading to their use in many different fields, but they also tend to be extremely expensive to make and difficult to fabricate – until now.

According to Engadget and Popular Mechanics, engineers at California-based HRL Laboratories have devised a way to 3D print heat-resistant ceramics that utilizes ultraviolet light and patterned masks instead of heating ceramic powders, which often leads to many flaws and fractures.

As they explained in the January 1 edition of the journal Science, the team developed a material that they have dubbed “preceramic monomers” which they cure using UV rays in a stereolithography 3D printer or through a patterned mask, and which form complex polymer structures.

These structures can have complicated shapes and cellular architecture, they added, and can be made into ceramics without microscopic fractures and with virtually no porosity. With this method, the HRL Laboratories team can produce a complex ceramic part up to 1000 times more quickly than conventional additive manufacturing methods, according to engineer Zak Eckel.

Method could benefit aerospace, defense industries

In most cases, heat-resistant ceramics are difficult to 3D print because they need to be exposed to insanely high temperatures in order to melt, and most current techniques used to produce ceramic materials through additive manufacturing tend to be limited, Popular Mechanics said.

Eckel and his colleagues came up with a substance that are similar to plastics when they are first made, but which transform into ceramics when they are heated in a furnace. The material is made out of a resin, converted into 100 micron thick layers of the plastic-like substance using UV light and heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius while surrounded by argon gas in an over, they added.

Initial tests proved successful at producing the first-ever 3D printed silicon carbide ceramics, and Eckel’s team believes that they can use this same approach to fabricate other types of ceramics as well. Their work could benefit the aerospace industry, which relies upon ceramic components for many parts of their rockets, and has drawn interest from DARPA as well, said Engadget.


Image credit: Thinkstock