Of all materials that can be 3D printed, glass remains one of the most challenging materials. However, scientists at the ETH Zurich Research Center in Switzerland are working to change this with a new and better glass printing technology.
Currently, it is possible to print glass objects. Commonly used methods involve either extruding molten glass, or selectively sintering (laser heating) ceramic powder to convert it into glass. The former requires high temperatures and therefore heat-resistant equipment, while the latter cannot produce particularly complex objects. ETH's new technology aims to improve both of these disadvantages.
It contains a photosensitive resin consisting of liquid plastic and organic molecules bonded to silicon-containing molecules, in other words, they are ceramic molecules. Using an existing process called digital light processing, the resin is exposed to a pattern of ultraviolet light. No matter where the light hits the resin, the plastic monomer will crosslink to form a solid polymer. The polymer has a labyrinth-like internal structure, and the space inside the labyrinth is filled with ceramic molecules.
The resulting three-dimensional object is then fired at a temperature of 600oC, burning off the polymer, leaving only the ceramic. In the second firing, the firing temperature is about 1000 ° C, and the ceramic is densified into a transparent porous glass. The object does shrink significantly when converted to glass, a factor that must be considered during the design process.
Researchers say that although the objects created so far are small, their shapes are quite complex. In addition, the pore size can be adjusted by changing the UV intensity, or other properties of the glass can be changed by mixing borate or phosphate into the resin.
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