Scientists develop method to create glass objects using conventional 3-D printer

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Washington, September 25 (ANI): A team of engineers and artists working at the University of Washington's (UW's) Solheim Rapid Manufacturing Laboratory has developed a way to create glass objects using a conventional 3-D printer.

The team's method, which it named the Vitraglyphic process, is a follow-up to the Solheim Lab's success last spring printing with ceramics.

"It became clear that if we could get a material into powder form at about 20 microns we could print just about anything," said Mark Ganter, a UW professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Solheim Lab.

Three-dimensional printers are used as a cheap, fast way to build prototype parts.

In a typical powder-based 3-D printing system, a thin layer of powder is spread over a platform and software directs an inkjet printer to deposit droplets of binder solution only where needed. The binder reacts with the powder to bind the particles together and create a 3-D object.

Glass powder doesn't readily absorb liquid, however, so the approach used with ceramic printing had to be radically altered.

"Using our normal process to print objects produced gelatin-like parts when we used glass powders," said mechanical engineering graduate student Grant Marchelli, who led the experimentation. "We had to reformulate our approach for both powder and binder," he added.

By adjusting the ratio of powder to liquid, the team found a way to build solid parts out of powdered glass purchased from Spectrum Glass in Woodinville, Washington.

Their successful formulation held together and fused when heated to the required temperature.

In an instance of new technology rediscovering and building on the past, Ganter points out that 3-D printed glass bears remarkable similarities to pate de verre, a technique for creating glassware, in which glass powder is mixed with a binding material such as egg white or enamel, placed in a mold and fired.

The technique dates from early Egyptian times. With 3-D printing the technique takes on a modern twist.

According to Ronald Rael, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, "3-D printing in glass has huge potential for changing the thinking about applications of glass in architecture. Before now, there was no good method of rapid prototyping in glass, so testing designs is an expensive, time-consuming process."

Rael added that 3-D printing allows one to insert different forms of glass to change the performance of the material at specific positions as required by the design. (ANI)

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