Building Bytes: 3D Printed Ceramic Bricks
Combining a traditional building material (ceramics) with a new fabrication technique (3D printing) to re-think an ancient building component (bricks), this project demonstrates how 3D printers can become portable, inexpensive brick factories for large-scale construction. Bricks are an ancient building component and their fabrication has seen several innovations throughout history; however it has consistently relied on a system of molds or extrusions that produce the same shape hundreds, or thousands, of times. This project is an exploration of a new fabrication tool for bricks: desktop 3D printers. This technique does not rely on molds, but rather prints each brick individually, allowing users to fabricate complex forms within which each brick can be unique.
Below is a video which is an overview of our first part of this research. Please visit the Building Bytes website for more information.
Creating a direct link between the digital models and physical tests was essential for this project, since the printing process, in combination with the material, were highly experimental. Optimal fabrication standards could only be determined through several physical prototypes. The following factors were examined: extrusion (flow of material), speed of printing, material viscosity, material slump, amount of layer overhang, stability during printing, and layer height.
A FDM (fused deposition modeling) style 3D printer was used for this project. The plastic extrusion system (print head) was replaced with a bespoke one that utilized air pressure, while the existing x,y,x gantry remained. The printing material was derived from a ceramic slip cast recipe and was stored in reusable plastic cartridges. Various recipes were tested to determine the optimal viscosity, drying time and shrinkage of the mixture. Each brick required approximately 15-20 minutes to print and after printing, the bricks were air dried for one day and then fired in a kiln at 1100 degrees Celsius for twelve hours.
This project highlights new opportunities for ingenious and adapted brick designs. For example, bricks can be designed with interlocking joints and different three-dimensional profiles on each façade. These bricks also offer the possibility of incorporating necessary electrical or mechanical infrastructure within them or engineering each brick’s strength to correlate with its placement within a wall.
Four brick types (Honeycomb, Interlocking, Ribbed Bricks, X-Bricks) were designed to test and demonstrate the design potential of this fabrication system and its applications in interior and exterior architecture. Along with full scale prototypes of a single brick and stacked aggregations of 15-30 bricks, scale models of potential final applications were produced to visualize and communicate the design intent.