There's a reason they're used in everything from jet engines to Formula 1 race car brakes: Ceramics are tough. They can withstand an absurd amount of heat and pressure without warping or breaking, all while brushing off many of the physical and chemical assaults that would rust metals and wear away plastics.
"The problem is that ceramics are just notoriously difficult to process," says Zak Eckel, an engineer at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California.
Ref: Additive manufacturing of polymer-derived ceramics. Science (1 January 2016) | DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2688
The extremely high melting point of many ceramics adds challenges to additive manufacturing as compared with metals and polymers. Because ceramics cannot be cast or machined easily, three-dimensional (3D) printing enables a big leap in geometrical flexibility. We report preceramic monomers that are cured with ultraviolet light in a stereolithography 3D printer or through a patterned mask, forming 3D polymer structures that can have complex shape and cellular architecture. These polymer structures can be pyrolyzed to a ceramic with uniform shrinkage and virtually no porosity. Silicon oxycarbide microlattice and honeycomb cellular materials fabricated with this approach exhibit higher strength than ceramic foams of similar density. Additive manufacturing of such materials is of interest for propulsion components, thermal protection systems, porous burners, microelectromechanical systems, and electronic device packaging.