Technique old as time.
Glassmaking has been refined into countless styles across the inhabited world, with over 5,000 years of history.
The process, however, remains very much the same: sand and minerals are combined at high temperatures (up to 1500°C) and in traditional manufacturing, it is either blown, e.g. for vases, or floated on top of metal e.g. window panes, and cooled to set into its transparent state.
Adding 3D printing to the mix changes the traditional rules of glass masking.
The technique that Micron3DP and rivals at MIT have been exploring is FFF layering of molten glass to create objects.
Previously, glass has being 3D printed at a resolution of 4000 microns, producing transparent vases and sculptures with defined, rippled layers to their structure, as in the ‘caustic patterns’ designed by MIT’s Neri Oxman and Mediate Matter group.
An ability to manipulate glass in such a way is bursting with potential.
Making something so finely controlled means that the process could be used to make equipment used in laboratories for example.
Artistic expression could also reach new bounds in experimentation with complex and geometric structures.
The team at Micron 3DP are also currently targeting security, architecture and aerospace industries, encouraging engineers and artists to come forward with their ideas.
The process uses common soda lime glass, used in typical homewares.
What’s amazing is how the glass 3D printer chambers can manage the temperature needed to keep the molten glass from cooling too quickly.
The printer makes use of Micron’s expertise in full-metal extruders and the combined mechanical engineering experience of CEO Arik Bracha and the rapid prototyping of CTO Eran Gal-Or.
The technology may still be ‘fragile’ for the time being, but with developments expected within the next year it is moving relatively fast.