Jan 2, 2016 | By Benedict

Back in August, we reported on MIT’s Mediated Matter project, which successfully developed a glass 3D printer able to print with stunning precision. A collaboration between Mediated Matter and the MIT Glass Lab resulted in Dr. Pierre-Thomas Brun being brought into the equation. With the combined expertise of Dr. Brun, a renowned mathematician, and the two dedicated laboratories, the team was able to produce a mathematically precise “molten glass sewing machine”.

The nozzle of this unique 3D printer releases a stream of molten glass, which wobbles from side to side when raised above a certain level. The stream forms waves and loops, which can be precisely controlled by adjusting the speed of the nozzle. This allows the operator of the glass 3D printer to create intricate 3D glass objects.

"Normally when you 3D print, the nozzle is very close to the piece that you're printing - that's the conventional method,” Dr. Brun explained to BBC. “But what they started working with was having a large offset. And in that case, instead of having a thread that falls down and moves straight, you can create coil-like patterns like honey on toast.”

These patterns were in fact the subject of Dr. Brun’s PhD, hence why the two 3D printing labs were so keen to get him on board. The mathematician was soon playing the glass 3D game to great effect.

"I came up with a reduced model that explained the dynamics of these things," he said. "So I have a way to rationalize the patterns they observed, and we started working together in order to create some structures that take those patterns as building blocks.”

By rationalizing the patterns, Dr. Brun was able to turn a potential flaw into a precisely manipulable variable in the construction of 3D objects. Perhaps most excitingly, the natural loops of the molten stream are smaller than any pattern which could be forcibly produced by the nozzle, giving the 3D printer a technical edge over other glass-printing machines.

"These coils may seem complex, but you can rationalise them in a very simple way,” Dr. Brun explained. “And to do that you need one number: how fast is the glass falling onto the surface?”

If the glass falls at a slower rate than the forward progress of the nozzle, the thread will follow a wavy line rather than a straight one. If the nozzle speed reduces further, small alternating loops will begin to form in the thread. If the forward motion gets slower still, the loops become one consistent coil.

Dr. Brun and his fellow researchers likened the 3D printer to a sewing machine, because of the similar thread patterns produced by the two very different pieces of technology.

"It does exactly what a sewing machine does," Dr. Brun observed. "You go from a thread, to patterns which are tied to each other like stitching patterns - but this time they're made out of glass.”

All images: Dr. Pierre-Thomas Brun

The clever technique has been earmarked for use in sculpting and other 3D printing projects. See the “sewing machine” in action in the video below.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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