3D-printed ceramics give Japanese craft digital dynamic

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 11:20pm

Cutting-edge 3D printing technology is changing the dynamics of Japanese ceramics, as designers merge the traditional craft with a digital framework in pursuit of aesthetic refinement - and they're dramatically reducing the time needed to create their artwork without the need of a potter's wheel.

Art college graduates Yuichi Yanai and Tatsuya Uemachi are the masterminds behind Secca, a design outfit aiming to break the mould in culinary creativity by replicating ceramic ware with their leading-edge technology.

The company's digitally produced ceramics received high praise at a catering event in Cannes, France, hosted by a group of Japanese restaurants and sake breweries in Ishikawa last December.

"The introduction of 3D printers has changed the game," Yanai, 32, says at a Tokyo exhibition featuring the technology with various applications. "One of the advantages over the traditional manufacturing process for ceramic work is that we can use computers to create a more accurate drawing and more flexible designs than humans are able to craft."

To create ceramics using 3D printing technology, a design is digitally created using computer software before a mould is produced with the printer. Workers fill the moulds with clay and later remove them before firing the products in a kiln.

Uemachi, however, suggests that clay shrinkage during the process was less of an exact science.

"As different types of clay have different levels of shrinkage, we have failed to complete works many times. We have to try a lot of times, estimating shrinkage that will occur in clay when it is burned," Uemachi, 32, says.

Ceramic ware that traditionally might take a month to produce could be completed in a fortnight. Secca's products range in price from 5,500 yen (HK$340) to 100,000 yen. It has already begun to receive orders for the less pricey items.

Traditionally, a potter coils clay around a wheel to manually create a prototype for mass production. With the use of a 3D printer, designers say they can quickly create unique models using digital data - increasing opportunities for individual customers to order products that meet particular demands.

Uemachi, who has worked as a designer for optical equipment manufacturer Nikon Corp, quit his job in 2013 and established Secca, because he "wanted to do work that connects food with craftsmanship".

Yanai began studying to become a potter in 2010 and later hit on the idea to use 3D printing technology to design ceramic products that are digitally one-of-a-kind.

In 2011, Yanai won a top prize for his ceramic work with 3D technology in the design category of the International Ceramics Festival in Mino, central Japan.

Although the technology is in the vanguard of a new era of manufacturing, Yanai says his aim is not to destroy tradition but to create a renaissance of merging creativity. "We do not want to counter traditional ceramic arts, but combine it with 3D technology in the spirit of creativity."