3D glass printing method (re)discovered

September 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Not there yet but definitely a step forward. Shape is way more complex though.

I sometime talk about bio-mimicry as a way to greener and more efficient products. It’s obvious: humans simply didn’t got to that point in evolution where we can do better than nature. But apparently we’d better use some ancient-mimicry as well. Our much touted Egyptians seemingly used a very-similar technique to cast glassware, technique named “pate de verre” in which glass frits (finely crushed glass) was mixed with a binding material such as arabic gum and water, deposited on a mold to form a coating, and then thermically fused.

Scientists at University of Washington‘s Solheim Rapid Manufacturing Laboratory has revived this ancient method with a modern nano-tech touch and called it “Vitraglyphic process” (Now should we have a talk on prior art?). Fortunately, as with other ceramics 3D printing methods, this one has been released for general use and to encourage development in the filed, making it a cheap way for rapid prototyping and, as Prof. Ganter, co-director of the Solheim Lab, mentioned, using recycled glass as the base material would get 3D printing even more affordable in the artists and designers communities.

The solution developed by the team is clever in the fact that, not like ceramics, maltodextrin and sugar powders used when they first came up with  it, glass does not absorb the binder solution layer. The circumventing pathway used was adapting a different ratio of powder to binder liquid together with scaling down powder particles to around 20 microns, which is a scaling where “we could print just about anything”, as Prof. Mark Ganter puts it. The shape obtained this way held together and could be put in a kiln so that the layers of glass fuse creating the solid object.

As concerned as I am about energy-intensive manufacturing, I hope this method uses less energy for fusing the glass layers compared to similar glass casting methods. Perhaps a future development would be some microwave efficient fusing of the glass.

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