Object Lesson: 3D Ceramics Printer

Object Lesson is a new blog series that highlights some of the art, artifacts, machines, devices, books, instruments and tools that give physical form to ideas that enhance the MIT campus and community.



What is a 3D ceramics printer?

It is a pneumatic extrusion-based 3D printer designed specifically for printing clay and other paste materials, remixed from the exceptional work done by Jonathan Keep, Unfold, models by Oliver Reinecke and built by Bryan Czibesz, Assistant Professor of Ceramics at SUNY New Paltz.


Who made it?

Bryan Czibesz, Assistant Professor of Ceramics at SUNY New Paltz, along with students from MIT and Harvard, constructed the 3D printer in a workshop presented by the Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Arts at MIT on September 30 and October 1, 2017. Czibesz is an artist grounded in the tradition of object making who asks questions of authorship and authenticity through varying degrees of engagement and dislocation between the hand and material manipulation.


How was it made?

In a matter of hours, the 12 participants enrolled in the workshop constructed the printer with Czibesz’s guidance. All of the parts including nuts, bolts, zipties, aluminum rods, steel rods, pneumatic pressure regulators and bearings were laid out across table tops for easy access. Students formed small groups to focus on specific sections of the machine assembly. For detailed information about the materials used, visit thingiverse.

After completing the construction of the printer, the group loaded firmware and tested the machine. Next, they discussed 3D models, how to generate and process them using stereophotogrammetry, Rhino, Blender, MeshMixer and other software, gcode and extrusion printing parameters using Slic3r software, clay preparation for extrusion, and setting up test prints. For the remainder of the workshop, students shared ideas and test printed their 3D files.


Student test print of hands holding a vase. Credit: Jay Pastorello.
Student test print of hands holding a vase. Credit: Jay Pastorello.


When and where can I see it?

It is currently in use at the Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard at 224 Western Avenue, Allston, MA.


Why is it significant?

Jay Pastorello, a ceramics instructor in the MIT Student Art Association points out, “Our ceramics program primarily covers traditional methods in working with clay, like wheel throwing and handbuilding. Adding a 3D printer as an available tool for our students opens up new doors, as it allows for significantly more complicated forms to be constructed. It also merges the ancient and modern worlds of making in clay. A strong foundation in understanding how clay behaves allows for more successful printouts. And because the 3D printer is flexible as to which clay body it uses, we can utilize our studio’s clay, allowing for student’s 3D printouts to be attached, glazed and fired (in a kiln) right alongside their wheel-thrown and hand-built works.”


Posted on November 1, 2017 by Sharon Lacey