We’re going to take a real journey down a very old and really ancient material that has been used on this earth, manipulated by men for thousands of years and learn how one company is actually harnessing it and has now been able to control it through 3D printing. It’s actually very exciting. The company is MICRON3DP and they’re a company out of Israel. I’m going to have an interview with Eran Gal-or who is one of two partners in this company. Technically, he’s an industrial designer but he’s the CTO. They came up with the seed of this idea many years ago. The company is now been in existence for two years. It’s impressive what they have done.
I actually have some experience with glass as a material as a design student and then even after design school, going and taking a class or two at certain places in Corning, New York and others around glassblowing. It really is an ancient craft. If you’ve never had the chance to go to Corning, New York and take a tour of some of the museums there and the factories going on and demonstrations they have, I highly recommend it. It’s quite something to learn about certainly how glass has been manipulated and manufactured over time here in the United States. Glass has been around for thousands of years and has been manipulated for ages. It’s one of the primary materials probably along with clay and wood that some of the materials that had been manipulated by men from the earliest of times. Now, MICRON3DP is doing it in a 3D printer. They have invented this way to manipulate it. MIT had also experimented with it and was developing it but MICRON3DP has taken it a lot farther.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Printing Glass with Eran Gal-or of Micron3DP
Eran, thank you so much for joining us on WTFFF today. It’s great to have you.
It’s great to be here.
I was really impressed and surprised a little bit when I was doing the background research for this interview and went to your website, MICRON3DP and went to the gallery and saw the different things that you guys are doing with printing actual glass, 3D printing glass material. I would love to hear a little bit about how you got started in it. Then after that, I want to get in to some of the details of some of the use cases. Why do people want to print this material and what are the benefits of it? Why don’t you start with a little background as to how MICRON3DP came to be.
Let me get back a couple of years in the history and tell you a story. It all began with my partner and I, my partner is the CEO, Arik. He has a close friend, which is a glassblower. Glassblowing is one of the most traditional in all the techniques in the world. Glass is one of the materials which men and women started using about 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. This glassblower told him that he has a problem. Arik and I came to his factory; a nice, small factory nearby. He told us about his problem. Apparently, he had few employees that stopped working. They didn’t get a pass to work locally. They had to go back to their country. They were special glass artists. He asked us if we could build him a machine to produce glass pieces, glass items. We said, “Let’s see.” Arik and I both love working with the machine and inventing machine. He is a mechanical engineer and I’m an industrial designer. A few weeks later, we come up and started to just play with glass. We didn’t know anything about glass. Everything was new to us. We went to a glass store in Israel, a very small glass store and bought some glass pieces and start melting them with a glass torch and all kinds of weird ways to melt the glass.
It took us about two to three months to come up with a way and thought of 3D printing glass. It wasn’t 3D printing but it was the beginning of glass 3D printing. This was five years ago, way before our publication and way before MIT publication, which you probably know. We showed our technique to Arik’s friend. He was very impressed but he didn’t know what to do with this technology. Nobody else knew back then and what to do with it. It takes time to adapt new technology. Nobody thought that the glass 3D printing is something doable. This was all new.
It definitely appears to be very new. We’re looking for all kinds of different advances in 3D printing. I have seen another application of glass 3D printing but it was much different than what you’re doing. I have it in a past podcast episode. I think the layers they were printing were much, much thicker.
You’re talking about MIT project, our friend Neri Oxman, Mediated Matter, which I like. You spoke about the layer heights. That layer height is 4,000 microns in height. We achieved as we speak 100 microns and even better. It’s 40 times better resolution. It’s like comparing a horse with carriage to a Porsche. I’m not dismissing MIT. They are great and this is a great research project, to 3D print big objects. This is great but it’s not our goal. Our goal is to print very precise glass parts with high precision. This is a different story.
The images of some of the items and products that you’ve 3D printed really show an incredible level of detail in these glass parts. They look fantastic. I actually have some experience with glassblowing myself. I’m an industrial designer as well but I went to an art school, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island in the USA. They have all different kinds of fine arts including glassblowing as a major. You can get a degree in Glassblowing there. I had the opportunity to take some classes there. I’ve also been to Corning, New York to see some of the artistic glassblowing and projects going on there and have been able to try it a little bit. Glassblowing, it’s not easy. It is really an art as well as a technical skill. Just to have invented the technology, I know you say it’s been five years, I can understand why. In order to refine this technology and get to the point where you can print 100 micron layer heights and 3D print pretty much any shape, it had to have taken a long time to resolve that.
The company, MICRON3DP, exists for less than two years. The idea of glass 3D printing came before we established the company. In most startup cases, you have the idea and then suddenly you decide to start a company with this idea. I agree with what you said, that it’s a combination between art and technology. I think this is why I love getting up to work and to go to MICRON3DP every morning because it’s not just mathematical computation, software and the software engineer or mechanical engineering. It’s both mechanical and design and software. It’s everything together mixed up. To look on the machine print glass at the 1,200 degrees Celsius, every day this is something that nobody in the world, except for us, sees.
I was going to ask you about that because I know glass temperatures and the material itself, it’s a challenging material to work with; probably one of the most challenging materials that you probably could have chosen to work with to 3D print. The temperature is one which you already mentioned. You said 1,200 degrees Celsius, that is an incredible amount of heat. That’s almost 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a lot of heat to contain in your 3D printer. The follow-up question that I want to ask you is I know that when you make things out of glass, the annealing process is very important. You can’t just blow some glass objects, if you were glassblowing, then let them just cool, just to air their natural state or else the glass cracks and breaks. You have to put it in an oven not to heat it up but to cool it down very, very slowly over a day. Doesn’t that what it takes usually?
Yeah. You are right. Annealing is part of the equation to make a perfect part. It doesn’t matter if you print it perfect and then take it out of the printer and then it cracks. We have a very good experience with annealing of highly complicated parts. We know by the volume of the glass how much time we need to cool it down and in what rate. It’s actually part of the slicing software. The user doesn’t need to know any of those parameters. Just send it to the printer and then the software figures, “I have this type of geometry and the mass is X so I would cool it in this rate,” and then you can take it off of the printer. Everything is done fully automatically, without any knowledge or a glass experience from the user.
Tell me about some of your intended use cases. What types of products do you think, either there already is or is going to be a market for 3D printing parts, objects, products, out of this glass material?
Part of us leading this technology is that almost every day we get a new idea from a potential customers around the world about use cases. Let me tell you a few nice examples. We had a fascinating collaboration with Swarovski. Swarovski is the number one company in the world in crystal glass design. We were the first company in the world to 3D print their crystal glass on our platforms. It was never done before. A few months ago, we had a collaboration with Swarovski and the Japanese design studio, TAKT Project. The Japanese studio designed the glass pieces: the vases and the glass center piece. We printed those designs. It was displayed in Art Basel in Switzerland. Art Basel is one of the biggest design exhibition in the world. This was an art application, use case with Swarovski.
Another one if we jump from the art into the more technology world or field is Microfluidics tool. Microfluidics is basically you can call it a small lab, which scientists can experience with micro-organisms or chemical reaction in a small scale. We made the project with Helsinki University in Finland which will be published soon in Science and Nature Magazine. We have another application, which I cannot still discuss it but it relates to the medical world.
That would make sense that there are a lot of medical applications especially where you need to deal with sterility and lots of things like that. Glass is a great material for that. I have a question about some of the examples of items printed in the gallery on your website. There are some artistic items as well as some functional items. When people think of 3D printing glass, they don’t see some of the example objects. They might be thinking you’ll be able to see through it, it will be clear when you do. Because of the layer of process, it really refracts the light in all different directions and really you can’t see through it, at least from what it appears. Are there any ways to post-process with flame or anything, certain objects to be able to make them more transparent? Or is it always going to be an opaque result?
When people think of glass, they think of a transparent material. This is the first thing that comes in mind. When you look at our gallery page, the items that you see are not transparent or semi-transparent. To your question, yeah, it is possible to post-process glass. It is more difficult than post-processing plastic for example. Plastic you can send it easily and glass is a very rigid, very abrasive material. You need diamond tools and all kinds of nasty chemicals to post-process glass but we do have a solution. I cannot discuss the technical aspect of it. We do have a solution to produce a transparent glass during the printing process without any post-process afterwards.
You have a way to do it but you can’t talk about technically what it takes to do it. I understand that. I respect intellectual property, that’s great. There are settings you can choose if you want to end up with a transparent or a semi-transparent item?
Not in the current machine but in the coming machine. We are building the second generation. In the third generation or the fourth generation, we will have the solution embedded inside the machine that the user can choose whatever he wants to have a transparent glass or some of the glass to be transparent, to play with the file. If 3D printing glass is revolutionizing, this is the next stage in glass 3D printing.
That’s good to know that it’s coming and that it’s possible. You’ve been resolving that or are resolving it, which is great. I also was happy to see the introduction of color into your glass. There are several example showing not just a natural glass color. Usually, from my experience, that involves putting pigment into the glass or dyeing it when it’s hot. It seems that you have some capabilities there.
Yeah, we can combine multiple colors in the same object. We can also combine multiple materials in the same part. If you have two types of glasses that have the same coefficient, we can combine them and print them in one go.
It really seems like such an advancement. It’s blowing my mind quite honestly, the idea that glass is an ancient material. Other than probably wood, for people to build things out of or clay pottery, glass is one of the oldest materials on Earth that’s been fabricated by men. It’s a very interesting situation to think about that you’re bringing the newest technology to one of the oldest crafts and materials on Earth to create something new.
There is a story about the glass. There is a beach in Australia that you can find glass pieces on the beach. At the beginning, nobody knew how glass came and just drifted to the beach. After research, they figured that apparently during a lightning storm, the light hit the sand. The sand in this particular beach has a high quantity of silica. Actually, it just melted on the spot. It created these small glass balls in this beach. You can travel there and see just glass.
I wondered if there was more to the story that people thought that initially but then they found otherwise. You’re saying no, that’s what they’ve actually determined that lightning strikes, hit the beach and actually turned this high silica content sand into glass balls?
That is absolutely amazing. When you think about a lightning strike, I know it’s an incredibly strong amount of electricity and certainly enough to kill a person if you get struck. To think that it has that much power and heat to be able to turn sand into glass, that’s quite something.
It’s a nice story. There are animals in the ocean that produce silica, that produce glass, a very tiny amount of glass but they produce glass. Glass is everywhere. You can find glass even in our body, in part of the bones. Calcium phosphate is a type of glass and you can find it in nature. Glass is everywhere. We just invented a new way to process it.
Let’s talk about that. There is a photo in your gallery showing your machines, what I think are your 3D printers. I imagine they’re quite expensive and takes training to operate. Are they currently out in the market with some companies using them or are they still in development? Are they at any service bureaus? Can anybody send a CAD model to a service bureau and get a part printed on one of your machines?
The answer is yes to both questions. We do have Beta testers in a few places in the world that tests our machine. We do have 3D printing services which you can just send us the CAD file and we’d print it and ship it out a couple of days later to you.
Your company is doing that yourselves right now?
That’s great. I might have to try that. I’m a big fan of certain objects that glass is a typical and appropriate material for. Although I know in your country there are probably not a lot of people doing it. In United States, to have an ornament for a Christmas tree or something, a lot of them are made of glass. I think there are other objects that glass would be very appropriate for. I think it would be great to try that.
This has been fascinating. I can’t thank you enough for spending some time with me and sharing your new technology. I’m very excited about it. I’m very hopeful that your company achieves some great success. I hope you’re around for many, many years and you get lots of business so that you keep developing this material. I think it’s very important that the technology continues to be developed and advanced. I think that’s really in everybody’s best interest.
Thank you as well. It’s been a pleasure. I welcome you and everybody else to come visit us in Israel at our facility to see it in live.
I would love to do that. If I get to Israel or have the opportunity, I will let you know.
3D Printing Glass – Final Thoughts
I hope you really enjoyed that interview as much as I did. It’s fascinating to really learn what they have been doing, to 3D print at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit or I think it’s 1,200 degrees Celsius, something like that. Of course all of us that use 3D printers certainly understand Celsius because the majority of our 3D printers are actually printing, in terms of the G code and the settings, it’s all in Celsius. You’re talking 1,200 degrees Celsius, compare that to your typical 215 degrees for manipulating PLA or 250 to maybe 300 degrees Celsius maximum for other materials, or maybe polycarbonate may even be a little higher than that. Still, we’re talking a third at the highest, a third of the temperature of glass and then having the complexity of needing to anneal it. That is quite a challenge that these gentlemen took on. It’s really impressive.
I also wanted to mention something that I had often wondered. I don’t know how many of you have ever seen the movie Sweet Home Alabama. It’s maybe a ten or twelve-year old movie. It’s maybe around 2005 or 2006. One of the themes that’s a sub-element that ties some of the beginning of the story and the movie together right to the very end is the idea that the main characters of the film were on a beach in Alabama during a thunderstorm and then the lightning struck the sand and heated up the sand and turned it into glass. Then they would dig it up and find this incredibly beautiful sculpture. I understand, Hollywood and dramatic effect and artistic license. I always figure that this was just a cool, dramatic story and there was no truth to it. Certainly, when you see the objects that’s showed in that movie, they’re completely polished and beautiful looking. You could imagine that if lightning strikes sand and turns it into glass, there will be a lot of rough surfaces. There’ll certainly be a texture to it. It wouldn’t be completely smooth as if you blew glass. I never really thought much of it.
Until today where we have Eran who actually tells us this true story of a beach in Australia where the silica content is so high in the sand, which I guess the implication is that made it easier for this to happen, that actually they researched and determined that in the past, lightning had struck that beach and actually turned some of that sand into glass, although he says they’re beads of glass. I would imagine small beads to pebble-size and rounded globs of glass, which actually may make a lot of sense as compared to having something that looks like a root structure or a lightning bolt or maybe it’s more of an organic tree-type of shape. Just to know that there is some truth to it, that lightning has been able to turn sand into glass is pretty cool. While still that movie, Sweet Home Alabama, was definitely taking some artistic license with that idea, it took it a bit further. It’s nice to know that there is at least a little of basis in fact or potential fact going on there as a viewer of that film anyway. I found that fascinating.
I’m really excited to go and experiment with this material myself. I have actually sent them the logo. If any of you out there have and experience, either from MIT or any other place with 3D printing of glass, I know I’ve seen some YouTube videos and other things going on out there. I know people have been experimenting with it and I’m thrilled that there are because we want to continue to see materials and exploration of manipulating materials through 3D printing continue to get moved forward and further develop because that benefits all of us. Please come and reach out to us on social media anywhere @3DStartPoint or come to 3DStartPoint.com and leave us a comment and let us know what your experience is or some things that you may like to hopefully find or experience regarding glass. If there’s another interesting material that you’re involved in developing, we’d also like to hear about that. We want to keep finding new things that have been happening and developing and it always happens. Even though we’re almost at 500 episodes on this podcast and it started several years ago, as he said, his company is only two years old, this podcast is now more than two years old. It didn’t even exist when we started finding companies to interview and to bring and share with your audience.
I’m really excited that as we go on, there’s still more new things happening. We’re going to continue to try to find them and bring them to you. I hope you’re enjoying this as much as we are enjoying bringing it to you. We’ll be back soon with another episode. This has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
- Arik Bracha
- MICRON3DP Gallery
- Mediated Matter
- TAKT Project
- Art Basel
- Project with Helsinki University
About Eran Gal-or
Industrial Designer, Researcher and Entrepreneur with a passion for inventing new and innovative digital manufacturing technologies. An expert in additive manufacturing (3D printing) of exotic materials. Also has vast experience in design and integration of complex hardware-software systems. In 2015 Eran joined MICRON3DP Ltd. as CTO, leading the R&D of molten glass additive manufacturing.
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