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It is Now Possible to Use Glass in 3D Printing

3D printing, which is viewed as one of the great inventions of the 21th century, changed the world of printing and manufacturing. Rather than relying on complex and time-consuming techniques to create products, people can print a physical product. The process which has been adopted in many industries is constantly undergoing changes as newer and more improved techniques are discovered. 

One of the groundbreaking innovations is 3D glass printing which was recently discovered by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since inception, plastic has been the main material that is used in the printers but this is most likely going to change in the near future.

The newly discovered method is referred to as 3DGP (3D Glass Printing) and works in the same manner as the more conventional 3D plastic printing and also uses the same kind of printers. The only difference is that instead of using plastic, transparent glass is used, leading to a transparent object.

MIT, which has been behind many groundbreaking discoveries, has spent lots of time and resources in trying to improve the 3D printers which are fast becoming a preferred way of manufacture and assembly. The new technique was invented through the collaboration of several departments from MIT which include Media Lab, Mechanical Engineering Department, Wyss Institute and Glass Lab.

Just like the traditional method of using molten plastic in 3D printing, 3DGP uses molten glass that is fed through a series of channels. The printer places the molten glass layer after layer varying the thickness and density of the glass to achieve the desired form and shape. 

According to MIT, the 3D printer comprises of two main chambers that consist of heaters that melt the glass at varying degrees. One chamber is located on top of the other and is used as the main heating point also known as “Kiln Cartridge” and produces heat with temperatures as high as 1900-degree Fahrenheit. The lower chamber generates less heat and its main aim is to cool the molten glass into soft glass which is later used to mold/print an object through the printer.

The team from MIT states that the technique enables the printer to create a one-of-a-kind glass object which is also transparent. This makes the 3D printer effective for many applications in domestic, commercial and industrial applications. People who have used earlier 3D printers will find the process similar since only the material has changed, but the printer remains the same.

The group from MIT sees the technology being used to make more affordable fiber optic cables whose demand has been rising. Considering that glass is a common object and more affordable, using the printer to manufacture the fiber optics improves production and lowers cost.

Other sectors that will benefit from the 3D glass printer include the food, pharmaceutical and medical industries which rely on containers to store food, drugs, and other items. Unlike plastic, glass is more resistant to contamination and can withstand high temperatures better hence cases of losing shape or warping are minimal.

The discovery of 3DGP is receiving positive reactions from different sectors as many people and companies see it as a good way of improving productivity, cutting costs and boosting profitability.


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