The types of materials available for 3D printing continue to expand at an amazing rate. Glass is the latest development to get everyone excited, as researchers continue to work on printing glass objects with increasing complexity. Nearly one year ago, Shapeways introduced a new material to their already wide range of options: porcelain, which we wrote about last November.
Because it’s such a new and tricky material, the company made it available only in limited release at first, offering interested and experienced designers the opportunity to sign up for a pilot program. The program would allow them to submit their designs to be printed as part of the research and development phase, thus enabling the company to test and fine-tune the porcelain manufacturing process. Meanwhile, the chosen designers got the distinction of being the first to have their work printed in the new material.
The program was a success. Earlier this week, Shapeways announced that the testing period is complete and that porcelain will very shortly be available to all makers. By slowly expanding the group of makers and designers in the pilot program, the company was able to learn more about the material and work out the kinks in the unique manufacturing process. With the process perfected, porcelain is now available as an option for anyone ready to send their designs to print.
There are still a few limitations for the moment. Because the guidelines for porcelain printing are more geometry-specific than other materials, any models printed with it will need to be checked and tested before they can be sold. Therefore, Shapeways will only accept designs that have been printed before; no first to try models will be available in porcelain. They also caution that as every glaze reacts differently to surfaces and details, designers should be prepared to test a number of different glazes before deciding which is best for their models.
“We are aware that this is a different process than any other material and will necessitate more planning and prototyping on the part of shopowners, and makes launching a new product come at a greater investment,” said Shapeways’ Andrew Thomas. “Hopefully, this will allow us to create more high quality products in Porcelain and really show off what this new material is capable of.”
And it’s capable of a lot. The advantages of porcelain, as detailed at the beginning of the pilot program, include increased durability, finer detail, and the capability of maintaining its strength in large objects. The company began researching the material in response to issues that many users had been having with their traditional ceramic media, and they believe that the new porcelain option should eliminate problems like breakage and shipping delays. Not to mention, it’s beautiful to look at. Keep an eye on your favorite Shapeways shops in the next few months as some lovely porcelain works become available; you may be inspired to start working with it yourself.
Discuss this story in the Shapeways Porcelain forum thread on 3DPB.com.