Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Self cleaning plates and lego style brick houses? Are these ceramics of the future?

Legoland By Copyright © 2003 Kaihsu Tai
via Wikimedia Commons
Self cleaning Glass

I recently read an article about the possible future of textiles. Designers were predicting the living shoe and the strawberry plant that grows lace. Whilst fanciful such ideas have a slim chance of becoming reality.

That made me think about ceramics. What will be the future of our beloved ceramics in 50 years from now? Perhaps it will be self cleaning plates and lego style brick houses? Again these may seem far fetched to most but they are already possible in a small way.

The next 50 years in ceramics - my vision

My vision  is based mostly on what is possible now but not necessarily in ceramics

100% Recycling

Without doubt ceramics will be recycled in a more comprehensive and systematic way. Recycling points will be readily available in every part of the country. Ceramics will be reprocessed by barcode or other tracer systems which will allow them to be separated  for more economic recycling or re-use.

Greater personalisation in Design

The changes in pottery fashion are more rapid now than at any other time. This trend is likely to continue. Changes to our dining habits, less formal dining and more casual dining, is reflected in the ceramics we buy. Ceramics are now mostly considered a disposable item and need to fit more closely with our lifestyles. This has led to a wider choice of colour and shape. For example a whole range of ware may be used for dining instead of a single dinner plate.

The future however is likely to bring us even more personalisation in design. Designs will be agreed at the point of sale or online and products will leave the factory 24 hours later. Scope for designing your own tableware is not far away now and will be common place in the future. Personalisation is already available in a small way but this will grow exponentially as technology progresses.

Lightweight strong ceramics

Abalone Armor Paper-thin armor courtesy of nature Andreas Walther
Ceramics will become lighter and stronger! Lightweight ceramics have already been developed for military purposes but ultimately these ceramics will become part of the pottery scene. The advantages of light weight and strength are significant not only to the carbon footprint but also to manufacturing and transport costs.

Egg shell porcelain courtesy
of Victoria and Albert museum
 A good example of ultra thin ceramics is Eggshell porcelain , a delicate porcelain often decorated with a watermark-like image dating back to the Ming dynasty (1402-1424). Nevertheless because of lack of strength it has not found widespread use for dinnerware. Future ultra thin ceramics will have sufficient strength to make them suitable for a wide range of ceramics.

Imagine drinking from a paper thin highly decorated mug that is  heat retaining but virtually unbreakable?

Warm self cleaning sanitaryware

Composite materials are mixtures of materials eg ceramic and plastic which when combined give superior properties when compared to the individual materials alone. Such type of materials are common place in the military and aerospace industry. However they are less well used in domestic applications. Nevertheless car windshields are often a composite of glass and plastic. Here a layer of plastic is embedded in between two layers of glass to give extra strength and toughness.

In time other composite materials will emerge in household products. I can imagine a bathroom where the ceramic composites used are warm to the touch, with antibacteral surfaces that are virtually self cleaning. Water is recycled at point of use via ceramic composite filtering systems.

3D Digital printing- or how to doodle your own cup and plate!

2d digital printing of colour
3d digital printing of a sugar bowl
Digital 2d colour printing is already well established for printing of coloured images on to paper. It is already making significant inroads for the decoration of tiles and tableware. In the case of ceramics the 4 colours used in ink jet photocopier type machines are replaced by up to 10 ceramic coloured inks. These are then used to decorate ceramics directly or via an intermediate stage such as paper transfers. The result is a high quality image in rapid time using an amazingly flexible system. But digital printing does not stop there! 3D printing of ceramics is in its infancy. Greater design possibilities as well as the personalisation already discussed above will become the norm.

 But what does this all mean? In essence a 3d computer design will create a 3 dimensional object via a robotic system by building a series of 2d layers. A good analogy would be building a wall brick by brick but at particle or even molecualar level.

 Already there is a 3d printing pen that transfers what you draw into a 3d object in plastic. If you had a pen that would allow you to doodle a 3d object of the future what would  you draw?

Eco Style Ceramic bricks and panels

Eco house from

Although the detail of design, decoration and processes used in brick making has changed greatly in recent years, the basic idea of shaping raw clay into rectangular blocks remains much the same. Ceramic bricks have changed little in hundreds of years. In many ways this is cost driven so will need radical changes in house construction for this concept to change. 

However this is happening albeit slowly as more eco houses are being constructed (in part) off site and delivered to site for final assembly. This trend will continue. The idea of coventional bricks will change as this type of housing grows. It is not too stretching an idea to believe that strong lightweight ceramics in the form of legotype bricks or panels could be used in all future house construction. 

Who knows the eco house of the future could be manufactured entirely off site and only services and fixings completed on site! 

What do you think?

So whilst far fetched I believe many of the above have a reasonable chance of becoming reality. What do you think of my ideas? Do you have some (better) ideas of your own? I look forward to hearing all about them.

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

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