Ceramics have many useful properties: they can be extremely durable, and hold up to very high temperatures. Unfortunately simple flaws in the material can leave the door open for catastrophic failures, making manufacturing, especially of complex shapes, challenging.
Now, a team at a company called HRL Laboratories has described a method of 3D printing ceramics. The work, which combines a number of techniques that have already been in use, can create complicated structures that are very robust and able to withstand temperatures of up to 1,700 degrees Celsius.
The foundation of the work actually dates back to the 1960s. That's when researchers developed what are called polymer-derived ceramics. These are standard polymers made of chemicals that incorporate some of the materials that are typically used to make ceramic (such as silicon and nitrogen). Once the polymer is made in the desired shape, it can be heated, which causes it to undergo chemical reactions that decompose the organic portion of the polymer. Those escape as methane or carbon dioxide, leaving behind a ceramic composed of silicon, carbon, and nitrogen.