The glass industry is on the rise. According to Statista research, global demand for fabricated glass is trending upward, and expected to reach $139,900 million in 2023.
Compared to 10 years ago, that is double the market size.
What’s interesting is that more than two-thirds of the overall flat glass production is used in construction; specifically, architectural glass. Due to architectural glass being in such high demand, fabrication could be greatly improved with advances in additive manufacturing.
However, the fabrication of glass has been somewhat challenging: its complex geometry and custom projects remain quite difficult to design and fabricate on a large scale.
With 3D printing, things may be changing and getting easier for such fabrication.
Advancements in Glass Manufacturing Methods
Thanks to the wonders of additive manufacturing and MIT researchers, a new digital fabrication process for producing transparent glass is now possible at an industrial scale. It works on what they call a G3DP2 platform.
Developed by MIT researchers, the platform is used to turn molten glass into two columns that stand about three meters tall. The G3DP2 printer provides at least a proof of concept of the feasibility of creating transparent objects in this manner.
As the scientists explain:
One of the oldest production materials (glass) involves very complex design and accompanying production. Additive manufacturing with molten glass enables custom fabrication, yet still retains the optical transparency and chemical stability that's required for the traditional and more archaic manufacturing processes.
G3PD2 combines digitally integrated, three-zone thermal control systems. It uses a four-axis motion control system that enables the additive manufacturing printer to produce on an industrial scale with capabilities that mimic an enhanced production rate.
3D Printing and Industrial Manufacturing
This is another case where industrial manufacturing and 3D printing are working together to produce materials at larger scale, much like injection molding or large-scale chemical processing and extrusion operations. They're able to perform the additive manufacturing process for glass with a good degree of reliability to ensure product accuracy and the repeat-ability of fabrication.
This was previously unattainable for glass, again due to its complexity. Today, the team uses a series of material characterizations to evaluate the mechanical properties of the 3D-printed glass; the set of three-meter-tall glass columns, digitally fabricated, demonstrated the geometric complexity and finite accuracy, as well as the strength and transparency of 3D glass available for an architectural-scale application.
This first fabrication was a disruptive step in utilizing the structural capacity of the material.
The Future of Transparent 3D Printing
The installation and this new additive manufacturing platform is touted by MIT as being a foundation for future work: "It suggests exciting possibilities associated with the digital fabrication of glass, as well as potential applications in product and architectural design."
Consequently, architectural materials are yet another niche for successful application of 3D printing. In addition, the quality and the characteristics designed into the glass are achievable through additive manufacturing.
In the future, we can not only expect to see additive manufacturing used for architectural materials, but also to produce materials on a much larger scale, and to provide the qualities of accuracy, strength, and complexity that weren't quite possible before.