Very out of the box thinking has lead to a very FFF like 3D print glass printer due to the research and efforts at the MIT Glass Lab. We are blown away by the beautiful 3D print glass creations and excited about how this will impact other areas of the 3D printing industry when you look at how the extruded glass builds the final product. Featuring other newsworthy 3D print glass endeavors, as well as a classroom 3D print STEAM project that’s way better than the messy tissue paper glue that kids come home with called “stained glass.”
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Breaking Barriers with 3D Print Glass
Talking about a really cool material development, 3D print glass. We’ve been looking into, “is it real?” We’ve heard some things about it. There are a couple of different approaches to creating 3D print glass. The one we’re going to be talking about today is just really cool. I’m sure some of you may have known and even researched, there’s a sort of a powder bed fusion approach to printing glass, which actually works, but the glass is completely cloudy and opaque. It’s not clear, you can’t see through it.
There is another process we’ve discovered, by some researchers, that have really taken on the challenge and solve the problem of making 3D print glass through a nozzle. They’re able to 3D print objects that are clear. This is a big challenge because you’re talking about creating glasses at extreme high temperature. I keep thinking about our good friend, Laura Fully, from college. She’s a glass major at Rhode Island School of Design. We used to go visit her in the glass studio. That is one hot place to hang out. Literally. It is really quite a process.
Glass is a very hard material to work with. I don’t mean hard, like physically hard, although it is. I mean, a difficult material to work with. The temperatures are extreme, 1000°C. I’m just astounded by how hot it has to be to make it melt at just the right temperature so that it has just the smoothest, and you can manipulate it.
You also have to have then the right nozzle. The MIT lab who’s really been working on this and championing this, those researchers have used a aluminum oxide nozzle that they custom designed and developed to just be able to flow and be able to withstand those high temperatures, which makes sense because aluminum oxide is a material that’s used often in terms of manipulating glass or creating forms to blow glass into and things like that.
It already was the logical material, but you had to create custom nozzles to be able to do that. There is the coolest video, it is just amazing. It’s beautiful, the objects that they create are beautiful. What I really love most about it is, in the end result, that they really looked at, and that’s the power of glass, is the interaction between the glass and light. There’s an incredible display showing many of these objects. They shine light into and through the objects differently. The shadow play that’s created on the wall or table behind them, it’s quite beautiful.
Even just as objects, there were many, many different designs that they demonstrated and showed can be created. These are objects that would be, if they could sell, if they were selling them, would be ideal like wedding gift type products. These are like that kind of caliber. Very artistic and beautiful.
They also show, it’s just such a tiny little few seconds in the video, but they actually were testing them or strength testing them and breaking them. You could see that they actually ran through the tests. It didn’t really say it there, but it must seem to have very similar properties to how they might react as to a normal blown glass or something like that. I’m quite sure it has similar properties.
In reality, at the end of the day, they didn’t really create a different glass material. They took a glass material that exists and they figured out how to manipulate it to put it into a reservoir and how they were going to propel it through a nozzle at a predictable rate. They’re really then moving that nozzle in that reservoir together in an XY unlimited pattern there, on a bed really, to distribute the material in a very similar way to FFF 3D printing.
What I really liked most, best part of the video that I thought was there, was when they found a way to manipulate the nozzle differently like traditional FFF 3D printing. I think this offers some opportunity even for polymer 3D printing and ceramic 3D printing that no one has really tried. All of you out there who are listening, who are part of companies doing this, take note that in traditional FFF 3D printing, you’re just laying down a single bead from the nozzle and you’re going in a pattern and you’re filling up an entire layer or a wall thickness or whatever.
That’s really the limit of the thinking that has been out there for how to distribute and lay down the plastic material. They take the glass and they’re moving the nozzle in a pattern. Let’s say, a triangular pattern or a clover like pattern, over and over and over, that’s going along a path. They’re letting the nozzle be up above the part by several inches.
What’s happening is, the glass is almost like braiding itself or looping in a predictable controlled way, but to create this beautiful elegant wall thickness of glass that has a textural quality too and a pattern quality to it. A patterned quality I think is the best way to put it.
Think of instead of limiting your thinking of laying down material as, “All right, what’s the nozzle width?” And you’re going to lay that in a straight pattern or a curved pattern or whatever and then combine it with other ones to build up a wall thickness. What about creating a different kind of wall that’s much more open and porous in reality of the structure, it wasn’t a solid structure?
It had some of the really cool light play going on when they showed the light going through those. Tremendous. It had an effect that way. I think this is really a power of something that we have not gotten into. Maybe this is a time at which hacking the G code might actually be of design worthiness for a change. I’m now rethinking that because of this. Those of you have written in before and tried to convince us otherwise, I think this is a case where going into the G code might really make an artistic possibility for something that you couldn’t have done any other way.
I’m thinking about, like our daughter’s a baker, so we do a lot of frosting around here. One of the many, many techniques that you learn when you’re frosting cakes, when you’re creating pretty flowers or you’re creating scroll patterns or lattice work is being able to pull that distance and go up and down and back and forth and not just squeeze steady. Being able to do that and do that predictably and create that purposefully as a part of the design, that might be a real power and a real software change that needs to happen to be able to create even more artistic things.
I think it’s a definite opportunity. In terms of food 3D printing, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there, especially with either chocolate 3D printing or sugar 3D printing or some other material to create those kind of lacy lattice type things. Because they do tend to look very, very similar when they’re coming off. You have a very similarness. Someone with a hand artistic skill and the ability to know when you pull and when you push and when you move, someone who has thousands of hours of experience doing that, that artistic is not actually replicatable. We haven’t seen it really replicatable in that kind of beautiful way yet in the food 3D printing.
On the hacking the G code thing, we may not want to hack the G code to try to do it. We don’t want to. We’d just like the software to. I think we could hire somebody else to hack the G code to represent the pattern I want to. I think there may be another way to create a three dimensional linear path that then the G code were to mimic or follow or something. I don’t know. It’s interesting. That’s one thing that does come out very clear. It’s like, they must follow a path because that flow of that glass, starting and stopping it, isn’t possible in how that they’re running it. It’s a constant flow. You have to only do a continuous shape.
This was a way at which they manipulated that and created it, going in a different direction and creating an ability to do something that might give pockets of air and space that they couldn’t have done otherwise because they couldn’t skip areas.
To me, it was one of the most innovative things I’ve seen done on a Cartesian type of machine. I guess, it technically is. Fused filament fabrication, the filament is glass. It’s the most innovative thing I’ve seen in terms of manipulating the material in really my entire time understanding 3D printing.
Somebody was thinking way outside of the box of what the whole process was intended to do. To me, it’s wildly successful. It needs just a glimpse of this video. I don’t think those people realize how significant what they did there really was.
I hope that they do. One of the other things that I really found fascinating was they show so much about how the machine works in just little glimpses throughout. Basically, they created a hopper in the top at which they put that molten glass gather, I think that’s called, and they basically cut it off and drop it in like you would if you were working with blown glass. You drop basically it looks like a ball of molten glass into the top of it. That way of working, that could be a really interesting way of being able to use alternate materials in the future as well.
Also, there are people that have experimented with in terms of plastics, using plastic pellets instead of filament. This would be a similar approach. I think there are pros and cons to it, obviously, but similar approach.
We also just wanted to mention to you out there because people keep asking, this is why we’re bringing up this 3D print glass episode here, is that there are some realistic uses of it going on and things that are happening. There are 3D print glass lenses that are coming up in research and doing work. They don’t have the telltale signs of what we see as 3D print because they’re printed in alternative ways, more like the powder printers and SLS type process. They are polished and they become clear.
They’re now in proper shapes for you. You’re getting a better curvature. You’re getting the things that will make them much more useful and more functional for your particular face shape and your particular eye and your particular eye problems. That’s going to be really pretty interesting.
It’s a great development, I think. It’s just another perfect advancement. It’ll take time for it to get out to real commercial distribution but eventually, I’m sure it will. I keep thinking about that revolution in an industry that’s a very age old will be very interesting to see though how much functionality … Now, we can create lenses that are not essentially flat curved, whatever. They are creating different prescription values for you at different parts of the lens itself. Now, you may be able to help strengthen an eye or give you broader eyesight in ways that you never imagined before. So cool. All sorts of advancements going on there. Very cool.
On the decorative side though, I saw some cool “3D printed stained glass.” I know that they’re plastic, say I stained glass with air quotes. On Thingiverse, some people using the FFF printers to create the stained glass process of creating designs, I think that’s a cool idea. I think that could be a fun project. Now, you get to create stained glass in three dimensions and not just in one or two.
I love that. I’m remembering some projects as a kid. I was always into crafting and all sorts of things. One of the major projects I remember was having something that was a plastic stained glass project that you would put in the oven and have little plastic pellets that you would melt then within. I don’t remember if the framework was metal, it might have been, or if it was some other material.
This is like in the Shrinky Dink era. I remember those days. It wasn’t a Shrinky Dink because you weren’t just coloring plastic and shrinking it. This was different, melting stuff and carefully placing the different colors to achieve a certain pattern. I see it being a similar end result, but I like the idea of being able to 3D print that. That’s very cool.
Our daughter’s come home with them, with the tissue paper glued to paper that makes it look like stained glass. It gets all this transparent and stuff. I can think that those projects, I think there’s really a fun way to really do this as a classroom project but do it both with art and 3D printing combined. I think that that could be a lot of fun and just maybe a little bit of inspirational projects.
We’ll have a couple links to some things that we thought were fun and just of note and interesting concepts and ideas to think about is you’re developing your inspiration for how you might incorporate 3D printing into your artistic world.
We just want to keep your eyes open and bring out what new materials are coming and all of that. If you guys have any suggestions or things you’d like to hear, for example, this 3D print glass episode came out of many people asking us if we believe that this glass stuff was real. Please send us a message anywhere on social media, @3DStartPoint or in the comments below.
We hope you enjoyed that. If you have any other suggestions after seeing the 3D print glass video for other things you’ve seen you want to let us know about or other ideas you’d like us to cover, please let us know and we’ll do it in a future episode.
- MIT 3D Print Glass Research
- 3D Print Glass Video on Vimeo
- Luxexcel 3D Print Glass Lenses
- Skyblue 3D Print Stained Glass on Thingiverse
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