Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, have developed a technique for 3D printing clear glass using off-the-shelf stereolithography printers.
It seems that we can now 3D print anything from mud to metal. However, glass is a material which has often perplexed researchers.
Up until now, 3D printing glass has either meant cloudy prints or ridiculously high temperatures. However, this could be about to change.
Bastian Rapp is a researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. His team has developed a new technique for 3D printing objects from the material that are both strong and clear.
He said: “Glass is one of the oldest materials that mankind has used, and it’s astonishing to see the 3D printing revolution of the 21st century has ignored glass until now.”
Although Rapp is not the first to 3D print the material, his team are the first to use readily available stereolithography printers and low temperatures to print transparent glass.
Rapp’s stereolithography printing process works by using particles of the material suspended in a liquid polymer. Using this method it is possible to print complex structures, no matter how intricate.
A finishing process burns away the excess polymer material. The remaining particles then melt together to leave clear, hardened glass.
Disrupting A Traditional Craft
Rapp explains the benefits of the material, saying: “There is almost no material that can be exposed to such high temperatures as glass can be exposed to… And there is almost no chemical that can attack glass, whereas polymers can be degraded by UV light and organic solvents.”
Of course, a benefit of 3D printing is that any shape is possible. Anything from tiny camera lenses to large windows suddenly become a very realistic possibility. Rapp suggests that a future use could be next-generation microprocessor parts.
As well as this, the team found that they can add color to the prints. This is achieved by doping the print with metal salts before heating.
To research this process, Rapp’s team made use of an unmodified printer. The sort of printer which you could already have in your home, especially if you are into printing jewelry.
“It’s a well-established technological platform in terms of machinery, and it’s a well-recognized and well-known material,” Rapp says. “The only thing we made was the bridge in between.”
You can read up on the team’s research over at Nature. As for the next step, Rapp now plans to commercialize the technique and wants the first product to be on the market by the end of the year.
Source: Smithsonian Mag
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