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Pottery-makers may embrace 3-D printing to hone their designs

Chunichi Shimbun

In a field renowned for its handcrafted artistry, 3-D printers are gaining a foothold in the pottery industry.

Artists can now create original models using three-dimensional printing before it is mass-produced.

This new technique also allows users to enlarge or shrink their models by using the digital data.

Metal Works, a studio in the city of Seto, Aichi Prefecture, has been using 3-D printers since October 2013.

In one of the printers, melted liquid resin flows from a sharp tip with a diameter of 0.4 mm.

Successive layers, measuring roughly 0.15 mm each, are laid down until a shape forms.

This means that in order to create a round shape with a height of 15 cm, the machine would have to draw the circle 1,000 times.

CEO Takayuki Higashigawa, 63, has used the printer to create figures of Kumamon, the mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture, among others. The 3-D design was based on multiple images and scans of the character.

“A strong advantage is that these machines are able to create a more accurate drawing than humans. This has the potential of changing the manufacturing process for pottery and porcelain work,” Higashigawa said.

Traditionally, the process of making pottery and porcelain dolls involves getting a sculptor to create a complete prototype. A mold is then made for mass-production.

The work of creating three-dimensional objects from images are left to experts and the method hasn’t changed in years.

However, the introduction of 3-D printers has changed the game. Even a person with no prior experience can create 3-D objects.

For example, if they want to create a flower, all they have to do is scan the flower and obtain the digital data. After that, they can replicate the object using resin and then create a mold for mass-production.

It takes only two hours to create a cup 5 cm high with a diameter of 3.5 cm.

A sculptor in Seto, however, expressed skepticism that 3-D printers can replace the work of professional sculptors.

“Even if we shrink a car to make a mini car, the final product won’t look like a car,” said the sculptor. “Simply replicating isn’t enough. You need a human’s personal touch to make a believable product, so I don’t think this method will become mainstream.

“That being said, I do think that it is an efficient tool to make simple objects.”

Masaki Kato, an official in the evaluation division of the Aichi Center for Industry and Science Technology, said 3-D printers can be useful.

“As long as we have the digital data, we can enlarge and shrink, as well as divide the objects into smaller pieces. We can duplicate the exact same pieces years later,” said Kato, who is 49.

“However, 3-D printers are known to be costly. The raw materials sometimes cost more than hiring a sculptor,” he added.

“If we can somehow use (3-D printing) to add value, it could turn out to be one of the most important tools in the pottery industry.”

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on March 10.