Jan 3, 2019 | By Cameron

Glass is one of the oldest building materials and its use is incredibly widespread in our modern world of screens and skyscrapers that are literally covered in the transparent wonder. Very few materials are both hard and transparent, but those characteristics are highly desired in architecture, automobiles, and design. The popularity of glass is matched only by the difficulty of manufacturing it; glass is a viscous liquid only at very high temperatures and is incredibly sensitive to temperature variations and other environmental factors. As such, efforts to 3D print with glass have been limited. But leave it to MIT to push the threshold with their G3DP2 glass 3D printer.

A few years ago, we reported on MIT’s prototype G3DP that produced precise 3D prints from molten glass. In a paper recently published in Liebert, authors Chikara Inamura, Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Peter Houk, and Neri Oxman describe the next iteration of their glass printer: the G3DP2. The system has been redesigned from the ground up to handle the scale of industrial and architectural applications with an increased build volume, a larger reservoir, faster and more accurate printing, and longer operation times between required servicing.

The printer consists of three thermally-controlled zones: the reservoir that holds the molten glass at 1090°C to keep it liquid, the nozzle that operates at 800°C, and the build chamber that’s held at 480°C. They’re all connected to a single EZ-Zone controller and pull a peak 19kW (19,000 watts). If the insane temperatures are ignored, the machine functions like any other FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printer by consecutively stacking layers of a molten material that solidifies as it cools. But here are some fun comparative numbers: the nozzle temperature required to print PLA plastic on a standard FDM 3D printer is about 200°C and the average refrigerator runs on 700 watts. The G3DP2 is a veritable beast that won’t be making its way into makers’ homes because it’s just too dangerous.

Industrial users will love it, though, as the G3DP2 can output over 5kg per hour. The motion control covers four axes, the traditional X, Y, and Z movement plus full rotation on the Z-axis, though more work is needed to improve the use of that motion. 3-meter tall glass pillars were produced for Milan Design Week 2017 to show off its capabilities, and mechanical tests marked the 3D printed glass performance as on par with lime-soda glass.

Glassblowers throughout history have made extravagant and ornate glass pieces by hand (and mouth), but just wait until this technology spreads and becomes more accessible.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Michael C wrote at 1/6/2019 5:04:32 PM:

I wonder if using a glass powder bed and a laser would let you print in glass without the high temperature environment and less power consumption.

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