The coffee cup-a-day project
November 21, 2011
Prolific Spanish designer Bernat Cuni has come up with a whimsical way to help bring the relatively new 3D ceramic printing process into the mainstream. Recently, he unleashed his creative energies on what he termed the "coffee cup-a-day" project to highlight the versatility and immediacy of what is also known as "additive manufacturing" - the layer by layer construction of tangible objects from digital models. The results, while not necessarily the most utilitarian, could be just the thing for the coffee drinker who has it all.
"The cups are designed as a creative exercise and as a proof of concept for digital fabrication, in order to achieve something unthinkable some time ago: Create a product from the idea to the consumer in less than 24 hours," Cuni said.
Each of the thirty diminutive espresso cups in Cuni's amusing array was conceived, designed, modeled and fabricated within a 24-hour period. They're printed in food-safe, heat-resistant and recyclable glazed ceramics by Shapeways, a partner in the venture, but they aren't inexpensive. Prices range from US$36 to $81 for the roughly 45 mm (1.7 inch) diameter cups made available for purchase.
Construction of each cup takes about four hours and begins with the deposition of an organic binder on a bed of ceramic powder. Once that layer is completed, more ceramic powder is distributed on top, then more binder and so on until the model is complete. The entire matrix is then heated in an oven, which solidifies the binder-laden powder. The unbound ceramic material is then cleaned away from the solidified cup and it's prepared for the next several steps in the process.
At this point, the cup is solid but delicate, and so must be fired in a kiln at high temperature to permanently lock in the structure. The piece emerges with a rough surface, which is pre-glazed with a water-based spray, then re-fired in the kiln at a lower temperature. This smooths the surface a bit and paves the way for the final glaze coat, which is sprayed on, as well. After the final firing, the cup takes on that familiar shiny, durable surface we've come to expect from traditional ceramics.
Cuni says "Surprisingly, the idea generation has been the easiest part of the project. I still have tons of cup ideas in my head that were not designed: a banana handle cup, a toilet cup, a Matrioska cup, a melted cup, a mustache cup ..."
All in all, Cuni's cups are sure to be great conversation starters. With Christmas just around the corner, they may be just the ticket for that caffeine freak in your life. And if you don't see something that grabs you, visit Cuni's site for help on designing one of your own.
Check out the video below for more on the fabrication process: