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3D printing with glass filament at home

In the past years, 3D printers have become affordable enough that people can have them at home. The development of filaments has gone just as quickly. Nowadays, you can print using recycled PET bottles, wood, bamboo, various kinds of metal, and even coffee and beer. However, one popular material has been absent from the list: glass. While glass has been around for a very long time, there was no way to create a glass filament for your 3D printer at home, because of the high melting point of the material. Until now. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have developed a new technique for 3D printing glass, which can produce glass objects that are both strong and transparent.

The technique uses stereolithography, a traditional method of 3D printing in which an object is built up layer by layer using a liquid that hardens when touched by a laser light. It was possible before to 3D print glass, but this is the first time that it can be done by 3D stereolithography printers at a relatively low temperature.

The glass filament consists of powdered glass, suspended in a liquid polymer. When the object is printed, it is placed in a high temperature oven (the study talks about 1,300 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit), so not your common commercial oven), where the polymer is burned away while the glass particles are fused together.

There are good arguments for the usage of glass. Almost no material can withstand such high temperatures or chemicals. Polymers, on the other hand, can be degraded by UV light and organic solvents. In addition, no material is as transparent as glass is.

In non-printing methods of making glass sculptures, hydrofluoric acid is used, which is very dangerous.

Printing glass has other advantages over traditional methods, such as making closed cavities and channels, and it is faster.

The team hopes to have the filament on the market by the end of the year.

Photos: NeptunLab/KIT (via Smithsonianmag.com)

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