Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone

Most of our  3D printers print in plastic. While metal printing exists, the setup for it is expensive and the less expensive it is, the less impressive the results are. But there are other materials available, including ceramic. You don’t see many hobby-level ceramic printers, but a company, StoneFlower, aims to change all that with a print head that fits a normal 3D printer and extrudes clay. You can see a video of the device, below. They say with some modifications, it can print other things, including solder paste.

The concept isn’t new. There are printers that can do this on the market. However, they still aren’t a common item. Partially, this is a cost issue as many of these printers are pricey. They also often require compressed air to move the viscous clay through tubes. StoneFlower has a syringe pump that doesn’t use compressed air.

StoneFlower claims the design is open source, although looking at the document, it seems almost too simple, so we wonder if anyone will reproduce it. The video shows a large tube with a stepper motor — a big syringe pump —  with no associated drawings. The working part of the device they do show is little more than an 8 mm wood screw turned by a stepper motor.

Keep in mind the head sizes for something like this are huge (3 mm, not 0.3 mm). Printing with ceramic has challenges. For example, it needs support until after you fire it. Oh, and you probably need a kiln to do that if you want ceramic or porcelain. However, there are advantages, too. Ceramic is food safe and non-porous so you can drink out of your first cup with no fear.

We keep waiting for something new to change 3D printing at the hacker level. Honestly, this probably isn’t it, but it could make paste printing a little more common than it is today.

38 thoughts on “Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone

  1. A good design for an accessible paste-extruder, but for once I’d like to see a demo of a “new” 3DP tech that doesn’t involve printing only in vase/spiralize contour mode. It’s basically easy mode for any and all types of extrusion, and doesn’t say anything about a printer’s ability to do “actual” solid objects.

    1. Yeah it’s far overplayed but I think it actually fits a clay printer. A tea pot and cup set would have been cool. Or white clay printing a Greek statue. Plastic printers need some creativity- something functional, or custom/personalized, or difficult to make with traditional means

    2. First, thanks to Al Williams for spreading the word and his unbiased opinion, and thank you for comments as well. Since i’m a founder, i can answer some questions.
      After reading I made the video of printing with overhangs and support:

      It was the first experiment of this kind and it was not easy. On the other hand, it is quite diluted clay, without alcohol to facilitate drying. This print is not the best one, but it can be done much better with our KIT for sure.

      Compressed air. 4atm can injure, and 8atm may kill. I had a couple of accidents at the very start, and do not want to endanger people. There are enough brave sellers on this market. Feed rate with compressed air depends on the clay viscosity, room temperature, tube length and even on how long the clay was stored, and you must tweak it every time you print. With syringe it depends on G-code only.

      The price. Now the KIT is cheaper by 25% than any similar existing add-on for clay printing, and technically it is better and more convenient, that pressure driven add-ons. Not so bad, i guess. Price also depends on the size of market that is very small for clay printers.

      Best,
      Anatoly

      1. Hey thanks for the info Anatoly, from a brief adventure with clay working i was under the impression that air pockets in clay structures can lead to failure in the firing process, is that something that would effect a 3d printed clay structure? does this limit infill options? would this make under extrusions catastrophic for the final results?

  2. Printing in stone… I wonder what could that be… ahh.. I could have guessed… another one about printing pottery…
    Nonetheless, the concept is very interesting.

    Hmm… that music in the video, is that from “the stones”? (just kidding)

  3. “Ceramic is food safe and non-porous”, I’m not so sure about that.
    a) There are porous (e.g. furnace insulation) and non-porous ceramics (porcelain)
    b) There are ceramics that are definitely not food-save e.g. uranium-oxide, often used as fuel rods in powerplants.

    1. You can eat clay also that may counteract the radioactive poisoning. There is USP/NF or at least FDA approved clays for consumption. Even some glaze materials are not only consmetic ecternal use… they can be used internally… say the titanium dioxide I just ordered as a frosting whitener.

      1. Ummm… be careful generalizing here. Traditional ceramic glazes contain some of the most toxic substances known to man (compounds of lead, uranium, beryllium, cadmium, just to name a few). Some clays are safe to consume, and some are not, as they may contain toxic compounds including lead, arsenic and other nasties.

      1. The problem is control. If you read some of the links provided they show at least one system that uses a tank with compressed air, and an auger extruder at the tip to fine tune the control.

  4. i like the “vinyl look” as much as the next guy and for pottery and art it might be OK but if you want to create parts for prototyping or whatever out of ceramics you really need to post-process the parts which is going to be a huge pain either before or after firing. not all ceramic mixtures are as malleable as clay. I personally think its cool but i’ll wait until the tech is mature and cheap.

  5. If you have enough magnetite in your ceramics mix you can just just put the piece in an insulated sagger and microwave it an oven, if it fits. The timing is the hard part but if you know the output of your magnatron, the mass of the item, and the surface area of the sagger (therefore thermal loss rate) you should be able to calculate the correct time. The magnetite acts as a susceptor, but also as a flux.

    1. Good call. Really with that idea, maybe consider the powder dispenser type with an adhesive for the cores as a complimentary system. Unless there is a new formulation of green sand or other ceramics used… would be slightly different in formula than clay though can flow smoother if designed differently. Interesting how the demonstration details the system design to construct with COTS materials almost. I’d think green sand would flow not like clay and extrude so well where an auger would be required though I may be wrong.

      1. Rather than packed greensand think more along the lines of a ceramic investment casting refractory cement mixed to a thicker consistency than is currently used to flow around a model. At this thicker paste consistency you could print a mold provided your liquid component was formulated such that it flashed off at a rate that was consistent with both good layer adhesion and print definition. I dont really see the advantage of this method over using a similar dry component refractory in a powderbed/inkjet system to produce your molds.

        1. I think there may be something with a more porous clay or refractory also where the de-gassing can be achieved. May even be some new novel way to cast that no one has made more main stream. Yeah, I was thinking something more like for the sand cores for sure using a dry powder bed adhesive system. There may be something with preparation for the clay also if not really clay… like something that can be heated to evaporate out without deforming from boiling thus leaving porous micro cavities for de-gassing. .

  6. Neat stuff. Filling it up looks like a chore though. And the material is so soft you can see the addition of new layers cause lower ones to warp a bit. It might benefit from some localized heat to do some pre-drying to make it less delicate before baking.Like a like a hot air gun used in the way that a regular 3d printer uses a ducted print cooling fan.

    1. I have never worked with any clay that would tolerate that. If you find one, or a way to do that, please let us know.

      The other option, which I have seen someone use, is to spoon out dry clay powder as support — the tip will push the powder out of the way to print, and keep it from slumping.

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