MIT 3D Prints Glass Structures

I’ve been fascinated with 3D printing technology for a long time. I’ve very excited about its potential to democratize manufacturing. I’m also intrigued by how it is changing the relationship between the designer and manfufacturer, often combining the two (2) roles. The August 22, 2015 Issue of the Economist Magazine has an article entitled “What Goes Around Comes Around” that talks about advances in 3D printing that allow glass structures to be made with the additive process.

The process of printing with glass filaments is being explored by a team of researchers at MIT. The team had to modify the typical 3D printing process to overcome the challenges of printing glass. (This includes fragility on the printed structure that results from uneven cooling of the glass.) There improvements included:

Using a heated ceramic nozzle for priting. This helps control the flow of the glass.

Keeping the object in a high-temperature heating chamber so the entire structure is cooled at one time when removed from the chamber to room temperature.

Future improvements to the process might include:

Automating the process of heating and cooling the ceramic nozzle. (In the current process this is done manually with a blower and propane tourch.

Adding a plunger to control the speed at which the glass filament is extruded during printing.

This process has the ability to print special glassware with complex surface features. It sounds like a cool innovation. I look forward to seeing this process improve and be applied to the manufacturing process.