Clear is Near

The quest for a totally transparent façade came a step closer to reality recently when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) moved from theory to the controlled production of formed glass via 3D printing. Since the pieces of glass that are being created are still quite tiny, this might seem like just one small step for glass. In reality though, it is one giant step for glasskind. Let’s review the technology, then I will explain.

MIT researchers Chikara Inamura, Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Peter Houk and Neri Oxman call their system G3DP2 and describe it as “a new AM platform for molten glass that combines digitally integrated three-zone thermal control system with four-axis motion control system, introducing industrial-scale production capabilities with enhanced production rate and reliability while ensuring product accuracy and repeatability, all previously unattainable for glass.”

The researchers say that they have taken special care to control the glass extrusion system to ensure that it cools down and crystallizes without injecting impurities or structural problems.

The printed glass pieces can be replicated easily to the same measurement and tolerances, thus ensuring consistency for multiple outputs.

This technology is important for two reasons.

First, most new technology that starts out small, evolves into larger interactions as that technology improves. (Think televisions). So the day when large pieces of glass are printed will undoubtedly occur; it’s the “when” that is the question mark.

The second reason is more immediate. The technology will help turn another set of possibilities into actuality in the quest for a totally clear wall. As the size of individual glass lites becomes larger and larger, the desire for total transparency in the plane grows. The field of clear adhesives continues to advance, as well. Dow, for example, offers a structural silicone as a bonding option for clear, point-fixed glass façades.

3D glass printers will expand the ability to provide unique clear hardware, hinges, points and more. They will allow the use of glass in applications previously unavailable and they will expand our ability to “see clearly” for years to come.