Adore Strange | Mashable.com
The field of 3D printing is still largely the domain of major companies in need of easier prototyping methods and hobbyists.
But a new breakthrough could vastly expand the technology's applications: 3D printed glass.
Earlier this week, MIT unveiled a method it calls G3DP that allows the creation of complex 3D glass structures to be "printed" in a similar fashion to plastic constructs.
MIT's process accomplishes this by using two chambers, one that acts as a kiln cartridge (working at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit), and another that works to melt the structures together. The molten glass is distributed through an alumina-zircon-silica nozzle (shown in the video, above) that pours the material out like soft serve ice cream.
The G3DP process was developed by a team including the MIT Media Lab's Mediated Matter group, the MIT Glass Lab, the Wyss Institute and MIT's Mechanical Engineering Department.
One of the project's leader researchers, Neri Oxman, says the breakthrough could also lead to advances in creating fiber optic cables that transmit data more efficiently.
"Now [we can] consider printable optoelectronics, or the possibility of combining optical fibers for high-speed data transmission by light, combined within glass printed building facades."
This 3D glass printing technique could also hold "significant implications for all things glass: aerodynamic building facades optimized for solar gain," Oxman said.
The researcher's vision of one day employing the technology in building facades is also detailed in the team's paper, which states, "Initial research is being conducted to review the benefits of 3D printing glass technologies for architectural applications."
Regardless of material, 3D printing is a notoriously slow process, so in terms of speed, it still can't compare to the efficiency of modern, simple glass production in the packaging and beverage space. But when it comes to creating vastly more complex structures for other uses, MIT's G3DP process could yield glass structures we've never even imagined were possible.
At present, no commercial applications for the 3D glass printing breakthrough have been announced, but the team plans to show off some of the glass structures at an exhibit at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York in 2016.
Original article here.
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