Made X Binary: Ceramics Made with Love and Robots
If you’ve ever grabbed a coffee or tea from Curiosity in the Central Ninth neighborhood, you may have enjoyed it in a stylish and modern “Love Handle” mug. That mug was digitally designed and 3D printed with clay at Matt Sutton’s studio, madexbinary, where he makes all of his home goods.
“I want it to stand alone as a piece and be a great ceramic, not just a great, 3D-printed ceramic.”
Having spent most of his career as an engineer working in manufacturing and product development, Sutton discovered the world of ceramics in a roundabout way. While learning about 3D printing at his job, Sutton attended a workshop where they were printing with clay. Sutton had the intention of applying the knowledge he acquired from the workshop to his work with plastics. He purchased a robot arm and began testing 3D clay prints over the course of a weekend. He had an epiphany that he could design his own ceramics with his repurposed robot. “There’s just an inherent kind of warmth and quality to ceramics that doesn’t exist with plastics,” Sutton says.
Over the last four years of trial and error, Sutton has dialed in the process of printing with clay. Creating home goods that are stylish, functional and durable is challenging and requires a lot of refinement. “Not being trained as a ceramic artist, a lot of these techniques of attaching things [e.x. a handle to mug] are totally foreign to me,” Sutton says.
Sutton’s success came from finding the right balance of water to flow the clay through the nozzle and learning what shapes will and will not work. Usually, he starts with an idea in his head that he then draws up on the computer, transferring the design directly to the machine. His smaller designs, such as mugs, take seven minutes to print with a 24-hour drying period. The mug goes through an initial fi ring and is then glazed and fired in the kiln a second time. Typically, mugs that were printed on Monday will be ready to ship out to customers by Friday.
“Traditional ceramics are low tech, high touch, and my approach is high tech, low touch,” Sutton says. His minimalistic, modern designs are correlated with the technological aspect of his work, but are also in line with his personal taste. “I don’t want to hide the technology aspect of it, but I don’t necessarily want it to be prominent,” Sutton says. “I want it to stand alone as a piece and be a great ceramic, not just a great, 3D-printed ceramic.”
“There’s just an inherent kind of warmth and quality to ceramics that doesn’t exist with plastics.”
On the business side of things, he has endured the challenges of garnering recognition for madexbinary. He initially started the business selling light pendants, which were a higher-value item to sell but a much harder sale to make. Sutton believes he’s now found the sweet spot with drinkware, after forming partnerships with other companies that have sparked opportunities to create larger pieces and explore ceramics outside of drinkware.
“The thrill and the fun of 3D printing is trying new things—new designs and materials—and trying new techniques, but what sustains it all is the repetitive stuff like printing a coffee mug over and over again,” Sutton says. “I don’t necessarily love making the same things over and over again, but that’s what sustains the creative side.” Expansion of the business will mean more of the repetitive and less of the exploratory stuff. Sutton hopes he can gain R&D contracts or partnerships that will allow him to continue to explore or be able to solve a problem for someone else. If you’d like to check out Matt’s pieces, visit madexbinary.com, or follow the studio on Instagram @made.x.binary.
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