Big Omaha attendees may have noticed a new incarnation of the conference’s iconic cow this year. A 3D ceramic printer is pumping out a dozen tiny ceramic cows at a time in a back corner of KANEKO.
Tethon 3D, a 3D printing company based in Omaha, answered Silicon Prairie News’ call for art installations during the conference with one of their 350-pound printers. President Karen Linder and her team came up with the design for the one-and-a-half inch tall cow with input from Silicon Prairie News. The large ‘O’ the cow stands on is part of this year’s conference branding by Oxide Design.
While the cow’s design was developed in just a few weeks, the ceramic powder it’s made with required a much longer journey. John Balistreri, an associate professor at Bowling Green University, began the powder’s development about seven years ago. Karen and her husband and co-founder Jim Linder met Balistreri in 2011 while he was working with renowned ceramic artist Jun Kaneko.
“We thought ceramics had a lot of potential because of the properties they have,” Jim said. “Inert, heat resistant, pretty, wear-resistant, you can control the density. You can actually modify them in many ways.” He added that the ability to create a ceramic object in a very complex shape can be important for manufacturing as well as art.
The Linders founded Tethon 3D and began the process of acquiring the intellectual property from Balistreri. The company spent 2012 and 2013 creating a truly ceramic, printable powder in conjunction with Balistreri and Greg Pugh. The company began commercial operation this past March. “Nobody has ceramic powder that is as close to real ceramic as what we have,” Karen said.
Pugh, Tethon 3D’s director of technical operations, has spent eight years researching ceramic printing. “We wanted to stick to traditional ceramics,” he said, “because there’s so much of a history that exists. There’s so much technical knowledge that already exists. If you were to invent a new clay body, you’d have to reinvent everything else. And we didn’t really want to go that way. We wanted to make it available to other artists to use and to work with ceramics in ways that they already know.” The powder and the binder are, in fact, available commercially through Tethon 3D.
The company plans to continue their research in ceramic powders, hoping to develop variations that are suited for different industries and needs (such as printing bone-like material for biomedical projects). They’re also in the early stages of building a printer optimized for ceramic printing, ideally to mimic the compression achieved by an artist working clay with their hands.
For now, Big Omaha attendees can order one of Tethon 3D’s cows at a pre-sale of $19.95, with proceeds to benefit KANEKO. The pieces will also be available for a short time after Big Omaha on Tethon 3D’s Shopify site.