Glassomer, a spin-off from the NeptunLab Department of Microsystems Technology at the University of Freiburg, recently launched a new methodology to structure fused silica glass by means of 3D printing. Shaping glass has always been a challenge – up until now it is not something that could be easily be done in the workspace. Now, Glassomer is trying to lower the bar and getting 3DPrinting Glass as simple as working with polymer clay.
Glassomer: A Revolution in Glass Processing
Structuring fused silica glass is challenging and commonly processed using wet chemical etching techniques which require hydrofluoric acid. Whereas liquid Glassomer can be structured by room temperature replication or stereolithography 3D printing, a solid Glassomer can be structured using classical subtractive structuring technologies like drilling, milling, lathing or simply carving with a knife.
Here is how it works:
The Glassomer material can be printed using standard desktop SLA 3D printers as long as the printer’s material ‘open source’. It can further be structured using thermal polymer molding technologies like nanoimprinting, thermoforming or high-throughput roll-to-roll replication.
Glassomer – Fused Silica Glass Applications
The sintered Glassomer parts are chemically and physically indistinguishable from commercial fused silica glass. The material used in the process, a nano-composite, real fused silica glass and comes as a liquid or a solid. It’s not the same glass we use for windows or bottles, it is of much higher purity.
Fused silica has an extended lifespan, and is very stable against chemicals or heat. Upon heating it almost does not expand, thus you can put it in an oven of 1000 degr Celsius and then instantly cool it underwater without causing cracks. It remains, however, a glass – if you hit it forcefully, it will simply break.
Interestingly, the material shows the same high optical transparency in the UV part of the light spectrum, as well as in the visible and infrared region, a benefit that’s joined by the high thermal and chemical stability as well as the same mechanical strength and hardness of commercial fused silica glass.
Glassomer allows for the first time to structure high quality fused silica glass using polymer processing technologies with resolutions of a few micrometers and a surface roughness of a few nanometers fully compatible with the demands of printed optics and photonics. The finished part is completely transparent and clear. Fused silica is the purest glass out there, and it shows high optical transparency throughout the wavelength spectrum of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.
Future Outlook – What to Expect Next?
To date, the material is accessible to stereolithography printing and Glassomer aims to further develop technologies for fused deposition modeling and other forms of 3D printing and industrial molding.
Glassomer has the potential to revolutionize the way we fabricate glass. We want to make glasses accessible to every modern fabrication technology – besides 3D printing that includes high-throughput processes like industrial molding. This way high precision glass parts will become customizable and affordable. In the future, all compact optics like the cameras in smartphones will be made from glass – ensuring a higher quality and robustness.
The folks at 3DPrint.com recently wired an interesting interview with Dorothea Helmer, Glassomers’ specialist in organic and inorganic material chemistry. Worth reading!