Cracking the challenge of printing transparent glass through a 3-D nozzle.
September 14, 2015
(MIT Technology Review) Finding a nozzle suitable for printing glass was a complicated task, according to Peter Houk, head of MIT’s Glass Lab. To work it must be made of a material that can both handle high temperatures and resist the glass sticking to it. “At these elevated temperatures almost everything wants to stick to glass,” says Houk. Platinum nozzles are used in industry for some glass manufacturing processes, but are very expensive. Instead the group settled on a custom-made nozzle made of aluminum oxide.
The most challenging aspect of printing glass is that it must happen at extremely high temperatures. To flow well enough to be extruded through a nozzle, the material must be kept at a temperature greater than 1000 °C.
To achieve this, the printer needs separate heating systems for each stage of the manufacturing process. The molten glass ink is housed in a crucible above the nozzle, where heating coils maintain the desired temperature. The glass flows from the crucible into a custom nozzle, where separate heating coils keep it hot enough to flow and without sticking to the inside. Finally, objects are built inside a third heating chamber, which is kept just above the temperature at which the glass turns solid. This allows the printed objects to be cooled in a gradual, controlled way so that they don’t break.