Smart Tooling for Ceramic Profile Extrusion: New Approaches to Industrial Focussed Interdisciplinary Practice Based Research

The initial phase of the Fellowship, awarded in 2019, was used to explore how digital fabrication technologies could be used to establish new approaches with a ceramic profile extrusion technique that extended conventional capabilities to provide new creative and commercial outcomes. Working across the fields of craft, design, architecture and robotics, Dr Tavs Jorgensen and Sonny Lightfoot investigated innovative and design-led applications into the ceramic extrusion profile process, by customising curved and bespoke shapes generated through the application of robotics. They looked at how rapid workflows from computer-aided designs could create extrusion-dies developed through the use of parametric scripting and digital fabrication approaches, collectively termed: Smart Tooling. An important aspect of the fellowship was a programme of training underpinning the practical research to support Dr Jorgensen to become a research leader of the future.

In 2021 Dr Jorgensen secured a further UKRI/AHRC Leadership Fellow Award to support this research with funding to 2023. This project constitutes a second phase of a Leadership Fellowship award exploring innovation possibilities with the ceramic extrusion process. The ceramic extrusion method has been utilised for many decades in mass productions of architectural components, such as bricks and tiles. The process presents significant creative and commercial opportunities with the potential to be utilised in many other contexts and applications. Despite this innovation potential ceramic profile extrusion is significantly under researched. This research seeks to address this knowledge gap.

The fellowship is centred on investigations into how digital fabrication technologies can be the basis for developing new approaches and materials via interdisciplinary applications for the process. The project builds on successful findings from the initial fellowship period which established a series of tools and processes to aid further research and utilisation of the ceramic profile extrusion method. These tools include innovative methods for 3D printing the extrusion profiles, known as ‘dies’, as well as the development of software scripts which facilitate non-specialists to design the dies through simple numeric controls. The first phase also established a concept for a low-cost hydraulic extrusion system. This system, combined with the software script and the methods for 3D printing the extrusion die, constitute a rapid development workflow that enables individual practitioners as well as industrial companies to engage in this innovation with the ceramic extrusion process.

This second stage fellowship will provide the opportunity to build on the very promising potential of these results and expand the explorations into hybrid approaches introducing deployable elements to the extrusion dies. These explorations will seek to investigate the potential creation of hybrid extrusion and die moulding production methods – thus extending both the creative and technical application possibilities.

Another main aim of this project is to further develop Dr Tavs Jorgensen’s capacity for delivering interdisciplinary research leadership. This will be ensured through a range of activities including masterclasses, workshops and publishing research. This aim will be addressed in collaboration with other researchers across different disciplines, other HEIs and the world-leading industry partners. CFPR will continue to collaborate with industrial partners Arup and Wienerberger and will also partner with the National Composites Centre (NCC) to work on the development of extrusion with high-tech Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs) for potential applications in aerospace and energy, and with the CobBauge project at Plymouth University to try to extrude cob into building components for low carbon construction. The ambition is to develop capacity to actively raise the quality of the research environment in this interdisciplinary research area.

The project aims to be field-defining research that produces a new body of knowledge with a clear aim of extending the interdisciplinary research approach as wide as possible in the exploration of novel application for the ceramic profile extrusion process – in particular seeking to utilise the specific characteristic of ceramics to address the urgent issue of sustainability in design, manufacturing and construction.

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