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.