The list of materials that can now be shaped through 3D printing is growing. The most recent noteworthy one is glass. Scientists in Germany have now successfully created small, transparent, and intricate forms using a “liquid glass” technique.

The new capability and the unique properties of glass have opened up a range of possibilities for rapidly manufactured glass products and components for many different industries.

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A High-Temperature Challenge For 3D Printing
Glass’ properties of transparency, electrical and thermal insulation, resistance to abrasion and UV light, and more make it favorable for use in a variety of applications. However, it requires extremely high temperatures to be formed, manipulated, and shaped into an end product or part.

This limitation has made glass a tough material candidate for 3D printing—even as materials like metal and ceramic can now be printed with efficiency and reliability. Although glass forms have been 3D printed by MIT scientists in 2015, they required the use of an extruder that could maintain temperatures of 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The glass objects most recently created by the researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology used a different, slightly cooler process.

Credit: Neri Oxman

Success Through A Multi-Step Process
The “liquid glass” method works by combining glass powder and liquid polymer, which is then formed using a standard, stereolithographic 3D printer. The 3D printed object is then placed in a high-temperature oven.

The introduced heat causes the polymer to burn away and the glass particles to fuse together, making the object transparent. The results were detailed and strong, capable of withstanding temperatures of 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit.

This glass printing technique eliminated the need for chemical etching with hydrofluoric acid and allowed for the creation of seamless closed cavities and channels, which cannot be achieved through traditional glassblowing methods.


Potential Process For Parts, Large And Small
Perhaps a more streamlined version of the process could soon yield complex glass components like lenses, screens, and tiny components for microprocessors and other equipment. It could even be scaled up to produce glass panels and windows for buildings, vehicles and more.

Have thoughts on this development? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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