Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Material

Abstract

The digital laser printed transfer system offers the potential to change the qualities, speeds and economies of commercial ceramic production; this potential has not yet been exploited by the UK ceramics industry. The focus of the proposed research project is extending the use of laser printed transfer systems by exploring the use of new materials, methods and economies within a commercial context. The research will help revitalize the UK ceramics industry and so support regeneration across the UK in locations where ceramics manufacturing is situated.
The UK ceramics industry is suffering from a major recession and faces ongoing competition from East Asia. Digital laser printed ceramic decoration offers a new set of possibilities for revitalizing the UK ceramics industry. Alongside the opportunities for developing new aesthetic and design approaches, the technology holds the potential for increased speeds, scales and economies of production.
Directly printed digital inkjet technology is now used in the decoration of some flat ceramic tiles. In contrast, ceramic objects such as tableware, figurines and other ornament forms with complex surfaces are still decorated by the older and indirect system known as ceramic transfer printing. Whilst it is possible to use laser printing to produce ceramic transfers, this has remained a marginal technology in the UK, used only for single print or small batch production jobs; the current market model is a bureau-based service. Due to the limited resources and current client base of the bureaux, there has been a lack of investment in developing the process for large-scale manufacturing.
The proposed project aims to resolve this issue by building a consortium of innovators to explore the potential of this technology in large-scale manufacturing. Staff in the Ceramics and Glass programme at the Royal College of Art have arranged a collaboration with the inventor and patent holder of the laser printed ceramic transfer process, Michael Zimmer of MZTT, and the high-value ceramic manufacturers, Royal Crown Derby.
Professor Martin Smith of the RCA, an expert in combining ceramics and print, will be Principal Investigator for the project. Dr Steve Brown, whose PhD (funded by the AHRC) was focused on potential applications of digital print to complex ceramic objects, will be the primary researcher on the technical side. Dr Peter Oakley, who has previously conducted ethnographic research on the introduction of digital technologies in manufacturing industries, will be the Co-Investigator, undertaking the ethnographic fieldwork and an analysis of the social implications of adopting this technology. The project will be delivered over a period of 24 months, with the RCA researchers working closely with the technical staff in both industrial partners as well as with Royal Crown Derby's marketing staff and network of collectors.
A strong industry-facing dissemination programme, including workshops, exhibitions and a symposium, will showcase the project's technical findings. The intention is to reach industry leaders, creative designers and technical staff with a direct or tangential interest in digital printing applied to ceramics. In addition, a series of academic and public events and outreach activities, coordinated with RCA partners, will provide opportunities to inform academics, educators, graduate students, school pupils and other individuals interested in digital innovation. The planned publications will provide a long-lasting record which will be of use to policymakers whose remit covers the commercialization of digital technologies as well as to academics working on the take-up of new technologies and digital printing.

Planned Impact

The main immediate impact beneficiaries will be companies working in the UK's ceramics industry, through the dissemination of the findings and opportunities to view and handle the material evidence produced during the course of the project. Specific dissemination events are being held in order to reach managerial and key technical staff working in these companies. The technical information will also support further innovations incorporating laser printed transfer systems into other commercial contexts, partially through a demonstration of its feasibility, but also in terms of identifying the strategies that need to be deployed in order to overcome barriers to adoption.

The project intends to test the viability of using a digital technology within an industry established in the UK but under strong external pressures. Either outcome - confirmation of its immediate potential or identification of barriers to adoption - will assist strategic development in this sector.
The ethnographic material gathered regarding the manufacturers' and consumers' perspectives on the technology and the products created will support policy development, helping policy-makers working on the adoption of new (and especially digital) technologies, the commercialisation of emerging technologies and the regeneration of the UK's manufacturing base. It will also inform those working on regional regeneration projects where manufacturing or the creative industries are considered part of the regeneration strategy. The project will, therefore, indirectly support not only commercial ceramic manufacturing and the workforce that relies on it for employment, but other related fields of manufacture.

The project will, as part of its structure, be piloting a research methodology that integrates technical innovation with consumer responses towards the products created. It will therefore provide a framework for other similar scaling-up or commercialisation of emerging technology projects that focus on other technological processes. The record of this framework will be captured in a project summary paper and explained in more detail in the written ethnographic outputs; the merits and potential pitfalls of this approach will therefore be available for industrial partners to refer to in future.

The exhibitions and outreach activities presenting the project's technical findings will assist universities, schools and museums to improve their offer by informing key staff: lecturers, curators, teachers and outreach workers of the potential of digital technologies in relation to ceramic manufacturing.
The open graduate student presentation will enable any attending graduate students studying in any institution to gain technical insights into the process and its possible commercial applications.

The schools outreach activities will inform young participants about the opportunities digital manufacturing can offer creative practitioners; it will also demonstrate the extent to which technology and creativity are intertwined in manufacturing practice and so enthuse potential designers and technologists about following either as a career path.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Digitally printed tableware designs 
Description These realised designs sought to make improvements to the existing systems by reverse engineering the toner delivery system to deliver increased amounts of toner and the design of a new paper registration system to allow for multiple passes through one or more machine, in register, to allow for double printing and an extended colour range. These prototypes make use of the most recently developed printer and a new colour set of toner to: 1. achieve very subtle fades 2. revisit earlier Moire designs to achieve greater intensity of colour and stability of result in variable atmospheric conditions 3. achieve results that emulated a metallic surface 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Prototypes were shown at Top Drawer London 2018 and images of the works were published on the Royal College of Art open access online repository. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/3135/
 
Title Display at Ambiente, Frankfurt, Germany 
Description Working with the Queensberry Hunt design consultancy research staff from the ILPEC team realised design ideas using the new digital print technology. The resulting material prototypes were displayed on a commercial manufacturers (Monno) trade stand, providing opportunity to gauge market interest in terms of commercial viability. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Attendees at the trade fair were able to see and handle the prototypes and discuss the potential of the technology with the members of the ILPEC research team 
 
Title Display at the British Ceramic Biennial, Stoke on Trent 
Description Display presenting material results from the ILPEC project. Exhibits included the redesigned printer pump parts and paper feed mechanism and examples of digitally printed ceramic tests and commercial products created during the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The display was seen by attendees at the Biennial including directors and senior managers of Ceramic manufactures, including the CEO of Wedgwood and Global Design Director os Steelite International 
 
Title Display of objects at Top Draw, Olympia, London 
Description Display presenting material results from the ILPEC project. Exhibits included examples of digitally printed ceramic tableware prototypes and commercial products created during the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The display was seen by attendees at the Trade Fair including Ceramic manufacturers and distributers for the Hospitality sector 
 
Title Extending the potential for the digitally printed ceramic surface - Work in progress 
Description Selection of tests, trials, prototypes and completed artwork 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact A key element of the Research hub presented at the British Ceramics Biennial held in Stoke on Trent, an open access exhibition as part of a wider programme of events 
 
Title ILPEC work in progress pop-up exhibition at Making Futures V 
Description The exhibition consisted of a selection of the digitally printed tableware produced during Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface and the follow-on project Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The pop-up exhibition enabled conference attendees to making futures to see a selection of the objects that were produced for Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface and the follow-on project Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics. Images of the works on show were shared on Instagram by Making Futures presenters and attendees. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/3183/
 
Title Martin Smith design prototypes for tableware decoration 
Description Digitally printed design prototypes for tableware decoration - enamels on bone china 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Prototype design collections, which we have used widely at a number of meetings, presentations, conferences and displays, that have helped to stimulate the perception of digitally printed ceramic tableware. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2740
 
Title Milton Keynes Arts Centre - 2017 Plate Fundraiser 
Description In celebration of MK50; Milton Keynes 50th Birthday, the Arts Centre has invited 50 artists and designers to contribute to the 2017 Plate Fundraiser, an exhibition of the works and a live online auction from Friday 17 March 2017. The project team worked closely with 15 of the exhibiting artists to interpret their concepts through the new print methods as developed within the project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Milton Keynes Arts Centre are a nationally significant gallery. There are 50 artists involved in the exhibition with a large audience range, including a Turner Prize nominees. In addition to the exhibition there is an online auction of the works that is internationally accessible, and is a major contributor to the galleries revenue funding. The Director of the gallery Emma-Jayne Taylor commented that they had used the digital print process in the past but was always disappointed with the results. Working with the research project has completely changed her perception of the technology and they will continue to encourage their artist's to use it in the future. 
URL https://www.miltonkeynesartscentre.org/2017-plate-fundraiser
 
Title Places and Spaces 
Description This exhibition further investigates the formal language of the vessel and the way that it can both contain a space and define a place. It makes reference to elements of architectural language and further analyses the poetic qualities of mathematics and geometry. Building on previous work shown with Marsden Woo Gallery (Plates - Bowls - Vases, 2015) and its exploration of the archetype of the vase as a jumping-off point, the new body of work drops the scale to that of the cup, mug or beaker for an exploration of the geometric intersection of cylinders and cubes. This series of work uses Parian. The immaculacy of its marble-like appearance is echoed in the geometric purity of the piece, and then juxtaposed by a rough texture - closer to the erosion of an organic materials than the precision of the ground and polished surface that has characterised Smith's most recent work. He utilises a more monochromatic palette, offset with defined areas of intense colour produced through the digital printing technology 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The exhibition was widely reported in specialist ceramic and craft journals eg. Crafts, Ceramic Review, Ceramics Art and Perception and also associated on-line articles eg http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/articles/perfectly-formed/ 
 
Title Production run of digitally printed bone china for commercial partner Santorus Ltd 
Description Santorus Ltd have become known for their lavish, exuberant designs onto luxury fabrics, wallpapers, furniture and clothing. The Design Director Tara Strickland exploits the language made possible through new digital tools, and the company has identified companies to work with that use digital print production techniques to match. Keen to extend their business to include luxury bone china tableware, Santorus Ltd found the ILPEC project to be the only solution available to them at the time. Working closely with Steve Brown and Martin Smith at the RCA, Strickland and her team developed 17 entirely new digital designs for ceramic items, which were prototyped by exploiting the project's unique reprographic strategies, and printed using their new double printing methods. Workflows were then explored and set up, which utilised existing transfer application and firing methods in Stoke-on-Trent, in order to facilitate a limited edition production run of all 17 ceramic items. This unique set of three limited edition collections are the first production run to use the project's new knowledge, and the first to be commercially available, launched by Santorus Ltd at a number of design shows during 2017/18. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Shown at Decorex London 2017 and Heimtextil Frankfurt 2018 allowing attendees to see the application of the developments in the new digital technology. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3130
 
Title Prototypes manifesting unique visual qualities, realised through the research projects (ILPEC) developments 
Description Dr Steve Brown's collection of digitally printed ceramic tableware on bone china, were produced through the use of new knowledge developed during the AHRC funded project ILPEC 'Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics'. Throughout the project unique visual qualities were developed, specifically focussing on saturated colour made possible through double printing, used in combination with the technology's inherent ability to produce near continuous tone blends and fades. New reprographic strategies were also put into place, contributing to a sophisticated new visual territory opening up for the production of uniquely rich ceramic surfaces. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Prototypes were shown at the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent in 2017 and Top Drawer London 2018 and images of the works were published on the Royal College of Art open access online repository. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3129
 
Title Red and Black with Blue and Yellow 
Description A one person exhibition at Marsden Woo Gallery, London, UK that included three major works that made use of some of the early findings of the project 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Marsden Woo is a major gallery specialising in the exhibition and promotion of the Applied Arts in an international context. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/2738/
 
Title Spring Fair at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, UK 
Description This was the opportunity to showcase at the "UK's No. 1 trade show for gift and home" the results of the project to the international ceramic industry and retail sector 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The Spring Fair reaches 60,000 visitors and attracts a purchasing power of £2.4 billion from buyers across independents, multiples, e-Commerce and department stores. Critical conversations were held with key personnel from manufacturing and retail industries, stimulating a new perception of the potential for digital print production 
URL http://www.springfair.com/page.cfm/Action=Exhib/ExhibID=6010
 
Title Steve Brown design prototypes for tableware decoration 
Description Digitally printed design prototypes for tableware decoration - enamels on bone china 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Prototype design collections, which we have used widely at a number of meetings, presentations, conferences and displays, that have helped to stimulate the perception of digitally printed ceramic tableware. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2742
 
Description The project has proved that digital laser printing has the potential to become a viable surface decorating technology for large-scale commercial ceramic manufacturing. It has demonstrated new aesthetic possibilities as well as confirming the anticipated functional and economic benefits and identifying the current engineering limitations that need to be addressed.

One of the research project's main achievements was to overcome the limitations of the technology's application of colour through innovations in multi-pass printing. By depositing toner over more than one registered pass through the printer, a wider palette of more saturated colour is now achievable through relatively simple and accessible methods. This has extended the technology's potential throughout the whole colour range without having to develop new toner colours in the laboratory.

The project has also developed a new digitally-based visual language. Whilst digitally printed ceramics have been available through the bureaux model for some 15 years, the aesthetic was based on pre-digital imagery, so the potential of the new visual language has remained largely unexploited. The research has developed a new visual language previously unexploited by the ceramic tableware decoration industry.

Through observations of, and interviews with, staff working in the project partners, the individual participant's relationships with, or reactions to, the new technology were captured. These findings were used to identify specific barriers to the technology's adoption and the most important drivers behind change.
Exploitation Route The project findings will be taken forward by the project team for the AHRC Follow on Funding Award: Improved Laser Printing Equipment for Ceramics (ILPEC) AH/P012965/1, which will bring further industry experts into round table discussions focussed on the further use of digital printing technology in the ceramics industry. These include, amongst others - software engineers - printer manufacturers - toner manufacturers - transfer paper manufacturers

The project findings will directly inform a spin off business that members of the research team are in the process of setting up. The spin off will continue to collaborate with key members of the commercial ceramic manufacturing and retail sectors, providing consultation and support, alongside providing a design and production service.

The project findings may also be put to use by any commercial ceramic manufacturers. Due to their engagement as industrial partners in the project: Royal Crown Derby and Steelite International have an advantage in respect to adopting the digital laser printing technology in question.

The ethnographic findings and the associated methodology will be relevant to future studies on the adoption of new digital technologies into manufacturing contexts and will inform policymakers involved with supporting innovation in the manufacturing sector.
Sectors Creative Economy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description This project has definitely achieved its main objective, which was to positively change commercial perceptions towards the use of digital laser printing for ceramic tableware decoration. The project achieved this by developing new methods and approaches for using the laser printers and demonstrating these by creating tableware collection prototypes that have reached the intended specialist audience. By exploiting previously unregarded capabilities of the printers, the team has also extended the visual language of the process. The PI and researcher worked to briefs developed through negotiation with the design teams and senior management from the project's industrial partners: Royal Crown Derby and Steelite Ltd, both major UK ceramic manufacturers. Through the results of this direct industrial engagement approach, these partners have become convinced digital laser printing is a viable production method. Having been introduced to DCS, the UK suppliers of the laser printing technology, Royal Crown Derby are now working with them on the development of underglaze printing and are currently negotiating the procurement of equipment. By observing the industrial partners' perceptions of the technology of digital printing and their reactions to the results of the technology at different stages in the project, the Co-I was able to capture the positive change in attitudes towards digital laser printing over the two years of the project and identify the major sticking points regarding adoption. As well as being disseminated through academic channels, these findings have had an impact on policymaking through the Co-I's advisory activities with government organisations. In addition to being shown at planning events within the industrial partners, the collection of prototypes has also been exhibited at public and industry facing events. These include the British Ceramic Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent and Spring Fair at the Birmingham NEC. Through these events and studio tours at the RCA, the researchers have displayed and discussed the findings with designers working within the ceramic industry at other major UK companies. The exhibition at Spring Fair also provided the opportunity to show the work to the retail sector, who were equally convinced by the results. Due to requests to purchase the prototype collections or commission special items or collections the PI and researcher are in the process of forming a spin out company to meet this demand. The project has also engaged with the third sector through its relationship with Milton Keynes Arts Centre, a registered charity. The project supported the Arts Centre's major fundraising artist edition plate sales, working with Turner nominees and other established artists. As well as providing a further public platform to showcase the capabilities of the technology, this activity provided an opportunity to engage with an organisation that had previously commissioned printed ceramics from bureaux but had been dissatisfied with the quality of results. The commissions enabled the team to demonstrate how the new process could lead to more collaborative opportunities between artists and ceramic manufacturers that were fully exploiting the aesthetic capacities of digital print technology.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Creative Economy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

 
Description Crafts Council Report: Contributions of Craft to Innovation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact The report prompted invitations to present findings to the technology event hosted by the All Parliamentary Group for Design and Innovation, and to brief DCMS officials on the craft economy. The report informed Crafts Council advocacy work with Innovate UK and the Creative Industries Council.
URL http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/content/files/KPMG_CC_innovation_report_full.pdf
 
Description Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement
Amount £143,435 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P012965/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 01/2018
 
Title CAD working drawings for a unique registration system enabling multi-pass printing for A3 Ricoh 830 and 840 model laser printers 
Description The ILPEC project has developed multi-pass printing for laser printers that utilise ceramic pigments, in order to address the often weak qualities conventionally available. This registration system has been designed specifically to produce very fine re-registration of transfer paper. The addition of the comb element allows the paper to be loaded and the system to then work hands free. While the design has been used for ceramic printing the concept of multi-pass laser printing can be extended to other uses and materials such as for glass and enamelled metals. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The creation of technical prototypes enabled the testing of the equipment at higher volumes and colour saturation. This in turn enabled the realisation of products for the commercial market, which were then exhibited at trade fairs. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3132
 
Title Working CAD files that allow the fabrication of 3D printed parts to replace and improve the quantity of toner flow for a Ricoh Aficio SP C830DN laser printer 
Description Working CAD files that allow the fabrication of 3D printed parts to replace and improve the quantity of toner flow for a Ricoh Aficio SP C830DN laser printer 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The creation of technical prototypes enabled the testing of the equipment at higher volumes and colour saturation. This in turn enabled the realisation of products for the commercial market, which were then exhibited at trade fairs. 
URL http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3133
 
Company Name Smith&Brown Ltd 
Description Smith&Brown Ltd has been established as a private company limited by shares with Martin Smith, the PI, and Dr Steve Brown, the Researcher, as the two Directors. Making use of findings and systems developed through the project, it aims to provides a design and production offer for bespoke tableware for the hospitality industry, particularly hotels and restaurants. It will also develop a series of signature tableware items for on line sale. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact The company was incorporated on the 14th March and is in the process of equipping its studio
Website http://smithbrown.co.uk
 
Description Materials Reborn? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Introductory Speaker and discussion moderator for 'Materials Reborn?', an event showcasing the work of the winner and shortlisted contestants for the Arts Foundation's 2015 Materials Innovation Award, supported by the Clothworkers' Foundation. 'Materials Reborn?' was part of COLLECT 2015, held at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 10th May 2015.
The event was convened to promote the support of innovation within the crafts sphere by explaining the achievements and needs of individuals working at the cutting edge of technology in their practice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.artsfoundation.co.uk/news/materials-reborn-come-debate-collect-2015
 
Description Open Day Tour of Research Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The researchers gave a number of tours, displaying work and demonstrating methods in the research studio. This was aimed potential recruits for the Masters and Research Courses during the programme's open day. The tours stimulated much discussion about the possibilities for using digitally printed ceramics through the research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/ceramics-glass-open-day/
 
Description Presentation to CSULB Arts Faculty (California) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation on the approach to study and research at the RCA, which included an outline of the Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface project and findings to date (presented as a case study). The presentation was followed by an open question and answer session. The event was held at the California State University Long Beach (CSULB) campus on 12th April 2016 and was attended by 340 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the CSULB Arts Faculty.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to FIDM staff (California) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation outlining the Extending the Potential for the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface. project and the findings to date. The event was held at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) based in Los Angeles, California on the 14th April 2016 and attended by 3 senior FIDM staff.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description School Workshops (Westminster) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Workshops were delivered to 19 pupils from a local school who would not normally have access to digital print equipment over 5 sessions with 3 at their school and 2 visiting the Royal College of Art. The pupils were all given the opportunity to design and print using the technology and the resulting prints were applied and fired onto two pieces of bone china tableware per person. The sessions sparked questions and discussions about the use of digital technology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017