Dec 17, 2015 | By Alec

While the list of 3D printable materials seems to be ever expanding, one traditional manufacturing material has so far remained particularly difficult to tame. When molten, glass requires a lot of skill to form into complex shapes and has a tendency to behave very strangely when extruded, making it a relatively unexplored material for additive manufacturing—though recently, we did see MIT's Mediated Matter Lab design what was potentially the first 3D printing platform capable of 3D printing large pieces of optically transparent glass with a remarkable level of precision. Now, Virginia Tech and the Rhode Island School of Design are looking to take advanced glass manufacturing even further, through the nation’s first Collaborative Glass Robotics Laboratory. One initiative of the Lab is a robot-based 3D printing process for glass, that has already yielded interesting results.

This new technique, called 6-axis glass-printing, has come out of the minds of the Glass Robotics Laboratory, which was initially formed in 2013 as a collaboration between Stefanie Pender and Nathan King. Together, they are exploring the opportunities at the intersection of glass material systems and advanced fabrication technologies, with backing from Autodesk, Virginia Tech, and the Rhode Island School of Design. King is assistant professor of architecture at Virginia Tech, while Pender is a glass artist in Rhode Island. Together, they have been trying to see what robotics can bring to the age-old craft of glass blowing, with the help of robotically actuated molds, and robot-based 3-D printing for glass.

“The 6-axis glass-printing process was proven in 2013 and has continued to improve. At this point glass printing has caught the attention of several research groups, each making incremental strides, and each with different goals,” King said on the website of Virginia Tech.

The 3D printing process they have already come up with is intriguing, if a bit crude. While most 3D printing setups move the extruder in specific patterns, their current glass 3D printing setup actually uses computational design to move the robotic arm, holding onto a build plate, in specific patterns. The glass itself is suspended in place above it, and continues to drip down in a long strand. The interesting process can be seen in the clip below. “Beyond material exploration we are also developing new digital processes that allow real-time robotic motion control thus enhancing the potential to exploit a range of material behavior,” King said of the approach. 

And as the researchers explain, they are less looking for commercial glass 3D printing applications, but instead find themselves at the intersection of art, design, and the since of glass. “Instead of a technology-driven approach, we can approach digital fabrication from a place of profound material understanding. This research is evidence that the traditional technical arts will not be replaced by digital fabrication, instead, the technical arts will help to drive and support the direction of future making,” Pender says.

Indeed, they are hoping to expand their knowledge of glass applications through material exploration and strategic process intervention. They are embracing the intrinsic properties of the glass, and while most makers would balk at seeing those crude prints, the scientists instead see it as inherent qualities of the material that offer new design opportunities. “By focusing on the integration of the material and the computational, we can discover generative behaviors within the glass material,” Pender said. “For example, ‘transient coiling’ is a mode of movement which hot glass fibers rotate as they come into contact with other materials, thus creating volumetric depth from simple planar movements. The ability to highly control the movement of the glass as it is deposited through robotic control reveals an opportunity to manipulate this phenomenon which would be impossible without an automated process — thus presenting a new design potential.” 

“The glass robotics facility is the first of its kind research studio and will house a large custom glass furnace, large format annealing ovens, and will utilize the Design Robotics Studio’s large format industrial robotic arm to support the advancement of the mission to realize new potential in glass through the lens of computational design and digital fabrication processes,” added King. This new, expanded Glass Robotics Lab studio will be located at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ Research and Demonstration Facility in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

While their “profound material understanding” approach means that we are unlikely to be enjoying 3D printed glass structures created from our desktop 3D printers any time soon, their approach thus does create a lot of interesting new information and design possibilities.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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yzorg wrote at 12/18/2015 1:17:35 PM:

not quite the MIT style glas printing but everything that involves a kuka-bot is awesome!

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