These days, 3D printers—also known as additive manufacturing—are being used to revolutionize industries. They are capable of printing in materials like metals, rubber, plastics, clay, and metal and have applications for industries ranging from construction to fashion to medical devices. Now, thanks to the work of the Mediated Matter group, we can add glass to the list of printable materials.
The G3DP project, a molten glass extruder, is the first of its kind to print optically transparent glass. It was created in collaboration between the Mediated Matter Group at the MIT Media Lab, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and MIT’s Glass Lab and Wyss Institute. Researchers include John Klein, Michael Stern, Markus Kayser, Chikara Inamura, Giorgia Franchin, Shreya Dave, James Weaver, Peter Houk, and Professor Neri Oxman.
The G3DP uses a dual-heated chamber concept to steadily heat the material for even flow. An upper chamber initially heats the glass, and the lower chamber heats and steadily cools the glass at it exits the device, to prevent internal stresses and overly quick cooling which would cause the glass to break or strain. The printer is made of 80/20 aluminum stock and square steel tube. The system is mobile, mounted on pneumatic casters that allow it to be moved without damaging the fragile ceramic kilns. Until now, similar devices have been unable to handle such high melting point materials and facilitate a steady and safe cooling process.
According to the Mediated Matter group, “The project synthesizes modern technologies, with age-old established glass tools and technologies producing novel glass structures with numerous potential applications.”
Not only does the printer create beautiful pieces of glass, but the technology will allow new uses for the glass-based material in additive manufacturing due to its hardness, optical qualities, affordability, and availability.
The full text version of Additive Manufacturing of Optically Transparent Glass will appear in the September 2015 issue of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing.
Watch a video of the printer in action.