Continuing the column “What else can we print on a 3D printer?”, we should mention a recently improved technology, allowing to use glass as a 3D printing material. The scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) detailed their findings online in the journal Nature and are spinning off a company to commercialize the technology.
Thanks to archeology, we know that glassmaking is among the oldest human crafts (4-5 millennia old). The process itself included harsh chemicals and the use of very high temperatures in furnaces. That’s why glass is rather difficult to work with via 3D printing.
The scientists have overcome difficulties of this process by creating so called “liquid glass”. It is a substance made of silica (the material to produce glass) only with the particles of 40 nanometers—all dispersed in an acrylic solution. Now it’s possible to create complex items using this “liquid glass” and a standard 3D printer. Than, under the temperatures of about 2,370 degrees F (1,300 degrees C) the silica nanoparticles fuse together into smooth, transparent glass structures.
In few years, the invention is hoped to be used in production of tiny lenses for smartphone cameras, chemically and thermally resistant micro reactors made from glass, optical and photonics components for high-speed data transmission and curved pieces of glass for architecture.