Innovative 3D printer technology creates glass microstructures with light

Glass is often the material of choice for making complex microscopic objects such as smartphones, small and medium-sized camera lenses for endoscopes, and devices for analyzing or processing tiny amounts of liquids. The market has high demands for glass and process precision. However, the current methods of manufacturing glass are complex and costly, making it difficult to meet the growing needs of the industry.

UC Berkeley researchers have developed a new 3D printer technology that uses light to create glass microstructures. What’s more, the method produces glass faster, objects with higher optical quality, flexibility and strength.

Previously, the team of researchers creatively used computational axial lithography (CAL) to print glass. The technology is capable of digitally projecting a sequence of pre-computed light patterns into the resin container, and over time, the areas where the accumulated light exposure crosses the polymerization threshold becomes solid, while the areas that do not cross this threshold remain uncured, thereby The designed 3D object is printed in one go.

However, CAL is 3D Printer of the entire object at the same time, a technique that can be time-consuming and increases the risk of rough surface texture on glass. So the researchers extended the technology and created a new system, the micro-CAL. The system is capable of printing not only objects in polymers but also glass with an accuracy of about one-fifty millionth of a meter.

To better print glass, the researchers also developed a special resin material that contains nanoparticles of glass surrounded by a photosensitive binder liquid. It uses the printer’s digital light projection to solidify its binder, then heats the printed object to become a solid object of pure glass.

It is worth mentioning that the refractive index of the adhesive is almost the same as that of the glass. As a result, light passes through the material with little scattering. In the experiments, CAL-printed glass objects not only had more stable strength than objects fabricated by traditional layer-based printing processes, but also met customer requirements for glass shape, size, optical and mechanical properties to a certain extent.

At present, the relevant research results have been published in the journal “Science”. In the future, it is expected to bring innovation to the glass manufacturing industry.