Researchers from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have devised a new method for 3D printing objects made of pure glass.
Over the past several years 3D printing has taken every industry by storm and changed the face of disruptive manufacturing. Moreover the quality of 3D printers have improved and their prices fallen. Nevertheless, these printers have had one glaring weakness – their inability to print glass objects.
3D printers can print objects made of plastics, ceramics and even metal, but not glass, which is a shame, the researchers note, because materials made of them offer many advantages such as resistance to thermal and chemical damage. And of course, they are transparent.
Additively manufacturing glasses and especially high-purity glasses such as fused silica glass are notoriously difficult to shape, since they require high-temperature melting and casting processes for macroscopic objects or hazardous chemicals for microscopic features.
The new KIT technique allows for 3D printing glass objects based on the creation of a “liquid glass” the team developed – a glass nanocomposite with glass nanoparticles suspended in a photocurable prepolymer.
In practice, the sandy glass nanoparticles are mixed into a liquid solution and the results are then used as the “ink” for the printer. Once printed in the traditional way, the glass object is transferred to an oven that cures the glass and burns off other extraneous materials. The result is an object made of pure, clear glass.
The researchers note that the size and precision of the objects printed are limited only by the precision of the printer used, just as with other 3D printed objects. To demonstrate their new technique, the researchers printed tiny pretzels and an equally tiny castle and a honeycomb.
The researchers suggest that the new technique could be used to produce both very large and very small glass objects, from skyscraper facades to tiny camera lenses.
Image credit and content: NeptunLab/KIT