Can high-precision glass structures be 3D printed? A material science research report published in the British “Nature” magazine stated that German scientists used standard 3D printing technology to create ultra-complex, high-precision and high-quality glass shapes, such as tiny twisted crackers or castles. This means that 3D printing technology can now be used to produce structures with higher optical performance, which can be applied to a large number of complex lenses and filters.
Today, 3D printers are used to make all sorts of things — from shoes to airplane parts — with a variety of materials, usually plastics but also metal and ceramic. Glass has some pretty unique properties — it’s hard, long-lasting, can insulate against heat and electricity, and is key for creating the highest quality lenses for anything from your glasses to your camera. But the material is hard to 3D print because it melts at extremely high temperatures.
Glass is a material with a super long history, but still has a large number of practical properties today, including electrical insulation, thermal insulation, and unparalleled optical transparency. However, it is not easy to make customized structures, especially using high-purity glass (such as fused silica glass), because it requires higher processing temperatures and some add hazardous chemicals.
In the past few years, the cost of 3D printing technology has become lower and lower, and the range of applicable materials has become larger. But if you want to use standard 3D printing technology to produce high-quality glass structures that can be applied to precision optical equipment, it is still a big problem.
This time, Bastin Rapp, a researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, and his colleagues, invented a new technology to overcome this problem. They used a free-flowing quartz nanocomposite in a standard 3D printer. It is called “liquid glass”) to make complex shapes and then undergo thermal processing to form a fused silica glass structure with higher optical properties. These structures are smooth and transparent, and detailed features can be as small as tens of microns.
This technology not only provides exquisite handicrafts, but also produces surfaces with sufficiently high transparency and reflectivity, which can be used in a large number of optical devices.