Sometime in the future, surgeons will implant custom lenses that mimic the properties of actual human eyes, implants that are far better than those used today.
The same machine that turned out the lenses could also produce panels of SCHOTT NARIMA Color Effects glass, in a custom color, on demand, for an architect. Then, that same machine could fabricate laboratory glass uniquely suited to a specific line of research.
All of these could be made possible with glass 3D printers. SCHOTT is on the forefront of research and development into this promising field, supplying high-quality glass powder, pastes, rods, and tubing to developers like the Israeli 3D printer company MICRON3DP, as well as researchers from the Missouri University for Science and Technology.
These developments are bringing the quality of glass to a longstanding industry, expanding the potential of 3D printing to realize new products and even new business models across a number of fields.
3D glass printers come of age
3D printers have used plastics for more than three decades, with the first patent in the space issued to U.S. inventor Chuck Hall. It wasn’t until 2012 that researchers in both academia and industry took aim at 3D printable glass.
Early success was elusive. Products were cloudy, fragile, and full of air bubbles. There have been a few demonstrations of 3D glass printers that resulted in superior glass products, yet technical challenges still remain before glass printing becomes useful to technical, optical, or medical applications.
3D printing works by layering materials on top of one another, in much the same way that ink lays on top of paper in 2D printing. But printing with glass has turned out to be more complicated than plastics, because of the relatively high heat and narrow process window involved.
For example, if the heat is a little too low, the glass becomes rigid, and therefore doesn’t bond well. But if it is too high, is becomes viscous and will not hold a form. But done just right, 3D printed glass opens up a number of new possibilities.