Kwambio, a New York-based company that began as an online marketplace for 3D printed design objects, has over the years transformed into one of the more compelling players in the still niche ceramics 3D printing industry. Somewhat out of necessity—as Kwambio realized that in order to offer 3D printed ceramics at an affordable cost it could not outsource production—the company developed its very own ceramic AM system, the Ceramo One.
The 3D printer, first unveiled at CES 2018, is nearing market readiness and is already being put to use in-house to meet Kwambio’s growing ceramic AM orders. Curious about what has been going on at the company and to hear more about the Ceramo One, we caught up with Kwambio CEO Vlad Usov to hear the latest.
Outlining the company’s most recent developments, Usov highlighted three key points: the Ceramo One launch, new materials and finishes for its ceramics and its inclusion in the new TechStars accelerator program.
“We started this year by presenting our very own 3D printer for manufacturing ceramic objects— Ceramo One—at the biggest Consumer Electronics Show in the United States,” he said. “The new printer was warmly welcomed by industry leaders and enthusiasts. We already started getting pre-orders and are planning to assemble the first batch in Fall 2018.
“Our R&D department has also continued researching 3D printing materials. Firstly, we perfected our ceramic powders so the 3D printed objects are even more durable. And secondly, we developed two new materials and a bunch of special glazes with precious metals.
“Another big update is that Kwambio is taking part in the new TechStars program focused on additive manufacturing. The famous accelerator gives us a leg up as we face new challenges like manufacturing not only objects but also large industrial printers.”
Welcoming the Ceramo One
As mentioned, Kwambio has started taking pre-orders for its Ceramo One 3D printer so it is currently working on preparing its first units while simultaneously meeting its marketplace orders.
As Usov elaborates: “So far we’ve have received 13 orders for the Ceramo One. It might not seem like much, but you have to remember that we have a full-service 3D printing factory up and running that yearly manufactures 13,000 objects. We developed Ceramo One primarily for our own needs, and now have to figure out how to manufacture the machines in-house, without outsourcing to China.
“For now, we are focused on delivering results on the orders we have already received. We are, after all, still a small company so we don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin. We’ll probably make big splashes in the media next year, when we are confident that we can handle large orders for the Ceramo One.”
In terms of the cost, the Ceramo One is retailing for $25,000, while its materials cost $20 per 1 kg of ceramic powder. Usov adds that a 250 ml bottle of the binder material is supplied for free. The printer itself is compatible with a range of materials, including ceramic-based powders, glass and ceramic-metal composites, and is based on a binder jetting technology which enables rapid, precision printing.
“We’re seeing interest from very different companies,” said Usov about Ceramo One clients. “To name a few: all kinds of corporations need to print and test parts in-house as fast as possible. Art schools and different colleges would like to provide classes and let students prototype without leaving the campus. Construction companies, architectural firms and interior design studios are in printing custom-made objects for their clients.”
Ceramics, glass and metals, oh my!
Turning to materials, Kwambio currently offers two materials: porcelain—its most popular one—and an opaque glass-based powder that was developed in-house. This material, Usov explains, is well suited for prototypes because it does not require glazing, which cuts back significantly on time.
“This material is also great for manufacturing molds for metal casting so we see a lot of interest from big companies in automotive, aerospace and other industries,” he adds. “The third material is still in the works, we’re running tests now and getting ready to announce it. We can tell you that it’s a material with unique features—ceramics on steroids. We mix aluminum oxide with ceramic powder and get stunning results. General Electric and Coca-Cola are among the first companies to test it.”
In terms of finishes, Kwambio offers its marketplace clients three choices for its ceramics: a matte, gloss or opaque finish. Notably, the company also offers over 100 different colors.
“We don’t charge extra for glazing, so our clients can choose any color and finish they like,” Usov elaborates. “We also develop custom colors. In this case, our clients have two options: to keep the color for themselves or to allow us to add it to the Kwambio palette.
“We also have some special glazes that are available on-demand only. For example, we printed a few ceramic objects and glazed them using an 18-carat gold powder. They were exhibited at New York Design Week. Another successful experiment was a platinum glazed cup. The reason we developed these is simple: we are often asked about goldish and silverish glazes but everything that’s available on the market looks wack so we decided to find a solution we could be proud of.”
From marketplace to AM developer
Going back to Kwambio’s founding, we ask Usov how the company’s founders came to be focused on ceramic 3D printing specifically.
“It was an empty niche,” he tells us. “There was a demand but there were few 3D printing companies focused on ceramics. A handful of companies offered it as a service but they printed molds and were doing traditional slip casting. We were stubborn enough to print ceramics and that’s how Ceramo One was born.
“We also knew that it’s not only about printing but also about post-processing: the range of colors and finishes matters, the quality of work matters. In the end, it’s not only how the object is made but also how it looks and functions. We often take ‘impossible’ orders and challenge ourselves to make it happen, that’s how we learn new things. That’s why we are not only about ceramics but about other materials and even 3D printing hardware.”
As a ceramic 3D printing marketplace, Kwambio has committed to using its own printers and materials for producing orders. By remaining in-house, the company says it can closely monitor and guarantee quality. (Usov notes that it does use certified food glazes for certain homeware pieces.) Presently, the company produces all manner of ceramic objects, including parts and molds, homewares, design objects and functional pieces such as lampshades, charging trays, smoking pipes and more.
Kwambio got its start thanks to support from a number of angel investors and TechStars, a capital market company focused on funding innovative startups. Recently, the ceramic AM company was selected to take part in the Stanley+TechStars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator, alongside a handful of other promising startups in the industry.
“It opens amazing possibilities and pushes us forward,” says Usov. “It’s a full-time immersive experience to work back to back with guys from Stanley Black & Decker while being mentored by the best entrepreneurs in TechStars network. We are all here in 3D printing, and it’s hard to imagine anything more valuable than connections with great minds who built well-known businesses in this field. The program just connects the dots.
“We came to Stanley+TechStars program to find use cases for industrial applications employing our core technology and materials whilst expanding our production services to new industries outside of design and art worlds. As of now, we are happy to say that we have already achieved some great use cases with Stanley and GE on printing ceramic parts and we were able to figure these out during the program.”
The Stanley+TechStars accelerator program began on July 16th and will conclude with its Demo Day on October 11, 2018. Presently, Kwambio has operations in New York, where it is headquartered, London and Ukraine.