Then I've thought up with a few variations for the ceramics profession.
Why? As a ceramic artist I am part of the small manufacturing sector, which has a bias towards the hand or simple machined (we call it a wheel or slipcasting) out of a plastic material called "clay". As you know I'm using a variation of this called paperclay/paper clay/pclay(TM).
These days, with a computer and a 3D printer, there is the technology to produce any "plastic" 3D object!
See it at http://www.dimensionprinting.com
Don't have the US$15,000 for the printer?
For those without the small fortune need to buy one of these digital replicators visit http://reprap.org/wiki/WebHome to see how to build it yourself (video at http://vimeo.com/5202148) for under AUS$1000!
What I'm now researching is, is it possible to print clay/paperclay using a variation of these machines?
Look at the work of Antonella Cimatti, Italy and her paperclay techniques. It would be a small step to put a paperclay paste squirt nozzle as the printer head on the 3D printer!
Imaging you break a cup or plate? Just go to your computer, download a file from the web, and overnight your paperclay printer could printout a new 3D paperclay cup or plate (with premixed oxides in the paperclay slip-to give it colour), which you speed dry, spray on a clear glaze as a sealer and then fire it. Within the week you will be using it!
Or see a ceramic artwork you like on the net? Imagine downloading a file, email it to you local ceramic art studio, and they'll print out your artwork, decorate and fire it according to the artists instructions(also downloaded) and deliver it to you within a week!
Update: What do you know!
It's being done (but not in paperclay)
Designguide.tv interview from Unfold on Vimeo.
See it at ttp://vimeo.com/11706604 (thanks to Daniel Harmsworth, Challenger TAFE eTech Centre for the links)
for the first ceramic 3D printer-they call it a virtual potting wheel and ceramic printer!
(L’Artisan Electronique is an installation commissioned by Z33 Art Centre for the exhibition Design by Performance and developed in collaboration with Tim Knapen and the RepRap community, from 14 March 2010 to 30 May 2010 at Z33 Hasselt, Belgium)
Next day (Sept 13 2010)
Others are usinga binding "glue" (and compression) with the clay powder (less safe process) in a modified 3D printer
(John Balistreri and researchers from Bowling Green State University, first printed ceramic material in 2007)
Update 22 April 2011
Jennifer Lewis at the University of Illinois are, what I call, "micro-clay printing" lattices of special inks (ceramic, metal or polymeric materials). containing a mixture of fast- and slow-drying solvents.
Anyone want to bet that it's got cellulose fibre (ie paperclay) in it?
Thanks to Antonella Cimatti for alerting me to this!
UPDATE: Order your 3D printed ceramic vase online! (30 July 2011)
It's happened! There is now a company trailing 3 D printing of glazed ceramics. http://www.shapeways.com provides a service where you order an object in ceramic, it's printed out, fired, glazed, fired and then shipped to you. They are trailing the service to gauge consumer demand until August 2011. Do go online buy something and help keep the momentum going, I am.
UPDATE: Others working in this area from the ceramics community 10/8/11
SOFA 2011 PR featured Michael Eden's 'wedgewoodn't tureen' (video at http://vimeo.com/12295823).
InterviewSee it at ttp://vimeo.com/11706604 on Vimeo.
more on Michael, from his Gallery's website here
Still Cheaper 3D Printers (Update 12/1/12):
is a BBC Story about $1200 household 3D printers likely to drop to $500 within a year
(Thanks Michael F. for the new link)
Is the 3D printer the new Potters Wheel? This may be the case, according toartist potter Jonathan Keep.
Link provided by Antonella Cimatti.
Update 17 April 2012
'Just been reading up on Art and Science links via LinkedIn. While I have been aware that 3D printers have been used in the science, I didn't really grasp the scales available. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17357374 scientists create sculptures as small as a grain of sand (nano-objects), in this case a model of a Formula 1 racing car 0.285mm (0.011in) in length in just over four minutes!
Update 1 August 2012
In April 2012 I was invited to be an Artist in Residence in the ceramics studio at Perth central TAFE college. A RapMan 3.2 was purchased for me. With help we built it, printed out new parts, rebuilt it and begun printing in clay. See http://www.grahamhay.com.au/3dprintingclay.html or https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.854377434624889.1073741842.590459627683339&type=3facebook Link1
Update 1 February 2015
I purchased and built a Deltarprintr .... see Facebook link 2