I recently wrote an article concerning a new technique of using a 3D printer to build up layers upon layers with pre-existing materials to create “glass” based objects. The accompanied video looked stunning and the potential applications seemed endless, well now, a team of MIT researchers have opened up a new frontier within 3-D printing which has expanded on the premise with new details concerning the ability to print optically transparent glass objects.
The ability to print glass objects is extremely complex and has been attempted by other research groups, the problem lies with the extremely high temperature which is required in order to melt the material. Quite a few development teams have used tiny particles of glass which is melded together at a lower temperature in a technique called sintering. Unfortunately, this technique has rendered such objects to be structurally weak and optically cloudy, thus eliminating two of glass’s most desirable attributes: strength and transparency.
MIT have therefore developed its own process which retains those properties and produces printed glass objects which are both strong and fully transparent to light. The device which is used to print such objects utilizes a computer assisted program which is similar to the standard design operating mechanisms implemented by current 3D printers. The result is a machine which can print objects with little human interaction or indeed intervention; it’s stunning to imagine an autonomous production line in your living room.
In the present incarnation, molten glass is loaded into a hopper within the top of the device after being gathered from a conventional glass blowing kiln. When completed, the finished piece must be cut away from the moving platform on which it is assembled; the temperatures are the same of 1900 degrees Fahrenheit which is approx 1037 degrees Celsius.
The potential uses for such a technique is mind-blowing, Neri Oxman, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab envisions a future whereby it would be possible to “consider the integration of structural and environmental building performance within a single integrated skin.” This notion could completely transform the manufacturing process.
A further expansion on this technique would be to add pressure to the system which is either through a mechanical plunger or compressed gas, by doing so it is hoped to produce a more uniform flow and thus a more uniform width to the extruded filament of glass.
There is a potential downside to such a revolutionary direction, if you could inhabit a world where houses are printed on an industrial scale and goods are quickly printed, this would ultimately reduce the number of workers needed within production. AI and new techniques are slowly making people redundant within an ever-expanding population, a quote below emphases this further
“Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2025, up to a quarter of jobs will be replaced by either smart software or robots, while a study from Oxford University has suggested that 35% of existing UK jobs is at risk of automation in the next 20 years”.
What future will be printed for us humans?