As a material, glass is a cornerstone of construction. For this reason, researchers have been rushing to develop a means to 3D print it. While many new advancements have come about on this front, a recent study from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology stands out, in particular. The study deals with a very specific type of glass called fused silica.
Due to its high purity levels, fused silica is a material with high demand. Previously, scientists had found it difficult to replicate due to the extreme temperature conditions necessary to produce it. Additionally, casting procedures had many various obstructions towards compatibility with 3D printing.
The researchers utilised SLA methods with UV curable polymers, whereas previous methods relied solely on heat. These particular SLA printer were originally meant for jewellery production. The technique is very flexible and can produce virtually any structure.
The process uses a photocurable silica nanocomposite that is 3D printed and converted to high-quality fused silica glass via heat treatment. This gives it transparency and makes it more malleable. Wider applications of the method are still being explored.
The Difficulties of Fused Silica Glass Printing
Another important distinction between this study and previous ones is the quality of the end product. Previous iterations of glass printing have produced unclear or bumpy and even glass that has limited applications. Most uses of glass like optics or lighting require a clear panel or object. Jetting and Sintering methods applied to silicon granules often left the glass opaque.
in 2015, MIT came up with a transparent glass printing method that was leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. However, this particular method had its drawbacks (1000 °C heat level, the need for platinum extruders) and the end result had bumpy layers and varying transparency. While it was a great result, the glass was still not up to scratch for extensive use in lenses, optics and windows.
Glass has an unmatched level of transparency. This is the reason it is so ubiquitous in construction and home design. The importance of the discovery of a workable method like this cannot be understated. The main reason being that the construction industry will inch further to accepting 3D printing as a viable tool.