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Olivier van Herpts new delta printer makes stunning 3D printed pottery

Dutch artist Olivier van Herpt has spent the last two years working on 3D printer and 3D printing process that could make large and medium scale functional 3D printed ceramics.

van Herpt’s interest in 3D printing ceramics was guided by the possibilities and limitations of the technology. The desktop 3D printers allow people to make products that they’d otherwise be unable to make using traditional manufacturing methods. The technology is precise, repeatable and quick. But for van Herpt, these advantages could sometimes mean “cold, clinical, without feeling, an absence of humanity to some extent.” In addition, van Herpt found that the size of desktop 3D printers often limits you to create large and medium scale functional design objects such as bowls, plates & decorative objects.

van Herpt spent the last two year designing and making his own extruder and experimenting with many different types of clay. The result, a five-foot-tall, delta-style 3-D printer has been designed to creates complex ceramic pots with a synthetic human touch.

3D printed products are often pretty rough, as 3D printing deposits material in layers that are clearly visible after it hardens. Instead of trying to hide them, van Herpt sees these layers as part of his art, as an element of decoration, and he has even designed software to accentuate these layers.

“By introducing elements of randomness I wanted to reintroduce error, a human touch, stochasticity. I felt that the process craved some serendipity, joy through intentional failure. I wanted repeatability and precision but found I also needed mistakes.” says van Herpt.

In the beginning of his experiment, larger 3D printed objects were prone to collapsing under their own weight. van Herpt redesigned the extruder and utilized industrial-strength motors to deposit harder clay. These improvement enables him to print objects with higher levels of detail. van Herpt has been experimenting with textures, surfaces, shapes and sizes, and now his printer is capable of making objects up to 80 cm tall with a diameter of 42 cm. By altering its settings the printer can print out a three feet tall vessel, with fine detail in just two hours.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with designer Joris van Tubergen, Van Herpt has developed an open source extruder that can be used for printing with beeswax. Using this extruder anyone can create temporary disposable objects out of beeswax on their desktop 3D printers. These early efforts benefit his current work and he has spent many hours tweaking hardware. “I would like that both the extruder and 3D printer become well resolved refined objects, beautiful in an atelier or production space,” van Herpt told Wired. “Every single part on the machine is functional. There is no fat on the machine, nothing unnecessary or frivolous.”

Images: Olivier Van Herpt

Van Herpt said he is now fully dedicated to continuously exploring the 3D printing process. “3-D printing is moving very quickly and I have to move along with it,” he said. “I must not settle on a final design now since a complete redesign may be necessary at a later stage and the printer and extruder are therefore objects in transition without a final form.”