3D Printing of Glass

Canadian researchers demonstrated 3D printing of chalcogenide glass, which can be used to make optical components that operate at mid-infrared wavelengths. This 3D printed glass sample is 14 millimeters long. (Source: S. Morency, U. Laval)

For the first time, researchers have success­fully 3D printed chalcogenide glass, a unique material used to make optical components that operate at mid-infrared wave­lengths. The ability to 3D print this glass could make it possible to manu­facture complex glass components and optical fibers for new types of low-cost sensors, tele­communications components and biomedical devices. Researchers from the Centre d’Optique, Photonique et Laser (COPL) at Université Laval in Canada, Patrick Larochelle and his colleagues, modified a commer­cially available 3D printer for glass extrusion. The new method is based on the commonly used technique of fused deposition modelling, in which a plastic filament is melted and then extruded layer-by-layer to create detailed 3D objects.

“3D printing of optical materials will pave the way for a new era of designing and combining materials to produce the photonic components and fibers of the future,” said Yannick Ledemi, a member of the research team. “This new method could potentially result in a breakthrough for efficient manu­facturing of infrared optical components at a low cost.”

Chalco­genide glass softens at a relatively low tempera­ture compared to other glass. The research team therefore increased the maximum extruding tempera­ture of a commercial 3D printer from around 260 °C to 330 °C to enable chalco­genide glass extrusion. They produced chalco­genide glass filaments with dimensions similar to the commercial plastic filaments normally used with the 3D printer. Finally, the printer was programed to create two samples with complex shapes and dimensions.

“Our approach is very well suited for soft chalco­genide glass, but alter­native approaches are also being explored to print other types of glass,” said Ledemi. “This could allow fabri­cation of components made of multiple materials. Glass could also be combined with polymers with specia­lized electro-con­ductive or optical properties to produce multi-functional 3D printed devices.” 3D printing would also be useful for making fiber preforms with complex geometries or multiple materials, or a combination of both. Once the design and fabri­cation techniques are fine-tuned, the researchers say that 3D printing could be used for inex­pensive manu­facturing of high volumes of infrared glass components or fiber preforms.

“3D printed chalco­genide-based components would be useful for infrared thermal imaging for defense and security appli­cations,” continued Ledemi. “They would also enable sensors for pollutant monitoring, bio­medicine and other appli­cations where the infrared chemical signature of molecules is used for detection and diagnosis.” The researchers are now working to improve the design of the printer to increase its per­formance and enable additive manu­facturing of complex parts or components made of chalco­genide glass. They also want to add new extruders to enable co-printing with polymers for the develop­ment of multi-material components. (Source: OSA)

Reference: E. Baudet et al.: 3D-printing of arsenic sulfide chalcogenide glasses, Opt. Mat. Exp. 9, 2307 (2019); DOI: 10.1364/OME.9.002307

Link: Centre d’Optique, Photonique et Laser (COPL), Université Laval, Québec, Canada

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