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The impact of research into digitally printed three dimensional ceramics for creative practitioners, industrial applications and policy makers

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/D503310/1
Discipline:Visual Arts
Funding opportunity: Research Grants
Areas of Impact: Engagement with Busines, Creative Industries, Digital Technologies, Skills and capacity building
Lead RO: University of the West of England
Region:South West

Arts and humanities research that developed new methods of creating ceramics using 3D printing technology has revolutionized productivity and influenced government thinking on how the arts, crafts and design contribute to the UK’s economy.

Based at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), UWE, Professor Stephen Hoskins and his team were funded by the AHRC to collaborate with Denby Potteries to test designs and develop prototype models in a 3D printable patented ceramic material developed by Hoskins.

Using 3D printing technology, ceramic objects are built up layer by layer in the ceramic powder material. They are then fired and glazed in the usual way. ‘Printing’ ceramics in this way means that highly intricate and complex ceramics can be created that would have been impossible to achieve by traditional methods. This has opened up commercial potential through quicker manufacturing processes and new design options.

3D ceramic

‘Here is a university that has already made ceramic printing a reality and having that AHRC funding meant they could try these things out without commercial imperatives,’ says Denby senior designer Gary Hawley. He praised the partnership between his company and the researchers, saying that the new process is ‘pushing the boundaries of what is possible’.

Four of the five major UK ceramic tableware manufacturers have already approached CFPR for 3D printed ceramic prototypes for new ceramic tableware designs for commercial use. In addition, after consultation and initial trials at CFPR, Aardman Features purchased three 3D printers that allowed it to produce over 500,000 parts for the film Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012) with significant savings in production costs.

Hoskins has identified other exciting potential outcomes of the research, such as printing ceramic bone replacements for surgical use. His team also engaged in another AHRC-funded project, investigating self-glazing 3D printed ceramic, inspired by ancient Egyptian Faience ceramic techniques, bringing ancient tradition into the 21st century. 

CFPR’s unique approach in applying research findings from an arts-based philosophy to industrial problems has wide-ranging potential for the UK’s creative economy and beyond. As a result, Professor Hoskins was awarded Follow-on funding to develop the spin out company Argillasys, which launched in 2014. The patented ceramic material is licenced to American company Viridis LLC and sells under the name Viriclay. Currently Hoskins and his team has partnerships with Sibelco and Renishaw for further research in 3D printable ceramic materials. 

For more information on the project visit: Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), UWE

Gateway to Research Project Links: The fabrication of three dimensional art and craft artefacts through virtual digital construction and output, Jan 07 - Dec 09