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3D Printing in Glass: MIT Team Reveals New Platform

Author: Stefan Stalgren Sep 2, 2015 Posted in: Blog > News

3D Glass PrintingBuilding on a history of glassmaking that dates back to the Roman empire, an MIT team is using 3D printing technology in a process reminiscent of one ancient technique that coiled strands of molten glass.

MIT’s Mediated Matter group has unveiled G3DP, a first of its kind optically transparent glass printing process. “G3DP is an additive manufacturing platform designed to print optically transparent glass,” the group reports on their blog. The development “carries significant implications for all things glass. … The project synthesizes modern technologies, with age-old established glass tools and technologies producing novel glass structures with numerous potential applications.”  Leaders of the development team are Neri Oxman and Peter Houk.

Commenting on the team’s announcement, 3dprintingindustry.com writes:  “With this technology, the group will begin to test various architectural systems relying on 3D printed glass parts, which will allow the MIT group to design geometrically complex components, including structures with internal channels for distributing air, water, and biological matter in unique ways.”

The method works similarly to conventional 3D printing but with glass instead of plastic. “The team found that they could modulate the light transmission, reflection and refraction qualities by precisely varying the thickness of the print,” reports engadget.com. They believe the method “could eventually lead to better quality and less expensive fiber optics.”

“The process of making glass was already amazing. Take tiny grains of sand, melt them at staggering temperatures with other chemicals, then carefully cool it into a brand new solid, ready to be a vase, window, bottle, or bead. It’s possible to make glass on your grill in the backyard but generally it’s a skill reserved for craftsmen or factories. Then, there’s MIT,” reports Popular Science.

“From a reservoir heated to 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, the printer can lay down individual layers of melted glass, building it up into a finished sculpture. And the  printer doesn’t have to make straight lines or simple cylinders. The machine drizzles glass like honey into fascinatingly beautiful shapes.”

Gizmodo reports that watching the process is mesmerizing and “will soothe your soul.”  Check out MIT’s video and decide for yourself.

The September 2015 issue of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing offers a full report on the research behind the technology. Products fabricated with 3DGP will be displayed at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in 2016.