It’s easy to think that the end of 3D printing innovation has to be arriving soon, however each week seems to bring new and exciting news from the 3D printing world. This week is no exception with the news that 3D printing has conquered yet another obstacle: printing with glass.
A new study that has been published in Nature sees a new technique to 3D print this material that has been created by a team including Dr. Bastian Rapp at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. The methods of printing that were used are commonly available in today’s world and by using them they were able to create tiny, yet highly detailed, glass objects.
The Complications of Glass
Glass can be seen as a particularly hard material to work with in regards to printing as it requires high temperatures to melt. The most common materials that are used in 3D printing are plastics, such as PLA and ABS, or metals.
A very basic description of the way a 3D printer works is that it will superheat the materials until they are molten, after which it will extrude them through the nozzles and they then cool to form the structure. For this material however, it requires exceptionally high temperatures and it is also notoriously difficult when trying to shape.
The Glass Breakthrough
The way that the team from KIT have got around this problem thanks to a method called stereolithography. This is a method that shapes materials using ultraviolet light. They created a mixture that contained a powdered form of the material and a liquid polymer that they then printed into their required design.
Once the design is printed, they then shine UV light onto the design until it hardens. After this, it is then placed into a super heated oven that will solidify the material while also burning away any excess materials, leaving the new structure behind.
The fused silica glass that is left behind is non-porous and also has the transparency of commercial fused silica glass. This advancement means that not only is are the printing options for 3D printing widened further, but it can also potentially allow an easier and more cost effective method of creating new materials for commercial prospects in the future.