3D Glass Printing.

Robin HamiltonCreative Director

The cycle of ‘technology drives design, and design drives technology’ is evident when it comes to the 3D printer.

3D printing is changing the manufacturing world to a point where even aeroplanes and houses could eventually be printed rather than built. And this could come sooner than we think with various machines and materials being developed to print from.

One company, Mediated Matter, have manufactured a 3D printer using glass as the material of choice. Known as G3DP the printer is split into two separate chambers. The first is the Crucible Kiln, where the glass becomes malleable at temperatures of 1900 to 2130 degrees Fahrenheit. The glass then passes through the extruder, to be heated to 1165 degrees for up to four hours. For the following two hours the glass undertakes a process called fining, where helium is introduced to eliminate small bubbles by bringing them to the surface.

While the fining takes place the extruder is kept cool so the material doesn’t begin to flow. Once the process is complete the temperature is brought up to 1040 – 1010 degrees Celsius to begin the printing process.

While printing, the bottom chamber is heated to roughly 480 degrees Celsius to allow the glass to cool at a reduced rate, minimising the risk of the glass internally stressing and cracking. Once printed and cooled the printed glass can be polished and any waste is simply placed back in the Crucible Kiln ready for the next print.

The glass structures produced are fascinating and intriguing, and pose another exciting step in the 3D printing process. Mediated Matter have been working on improving their machine and hopefully they will release another video demonstrating further designs.

This process is a great example of technology driving design that could potentially have a huge influence on the manufacturing world. And as for the reverse, there have already been major steps made in design driving a new style of 3D printing all together – but I’ll save that for a future post.


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