New process enables 3D printing of small and complex glass components in just a few minutes


Because of its outstanding transparency and stability when it comes into contact with heat or chemicals, glass is relevant for many high-tech applications. However, conventional processes for shaping glass are often lengthy, energy-intensive and quickly reach their limits when it comes to small and complicated components. The Freiburg materials scientists Dr. Frederik Kotz-Helmer and Prof. Dr. Bastian E RappIn cooperation with the University of California in Berkeley/USA, they have developed a new method with which very small components made of transparent glass can be produced quickly and precisely using micro 3D printing. Possible applications are, for example, components of sensors and microscopes, but also of lab-on-a-chip systems. The researchers were able to publish their results in the current issue of the renowned journal Science .

Glass powder in plastic binder

The new technology is based on so-called glassomer materials that Kotz-Helmer and Rapp developed at the Institute for Microsystems Technology (IMTEK) at the University of Freiburg. "Glassomer materials consist of glass powder in a special plastic binder," says Kotz-Helmer, "so glass can be processed like plastic." The resulting components then go into a furnace, which burns the plastic and sinters the glass, that is compacted: "In the end, the components consist of one hundred percent highly transparent quartz glass," says Kotz-Helmer.

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