Arik Bracha holds a glass workpiece in his hand and meticulously examines it from all angles. Not only is he quite proud of the object‘s complex geometry, but also of the machine that produced it: the world’s first 3D glass printer. The Israeli start-up Micron E.M.E is recognized as one of the pioneers of high-resolution glass 3D printing and has already achieved with its 3D printing technology, which is based on a FDM process at extremely high temperatures, “the first successful results,” according to company founder Bracha. The entire global market for 3D printing, which is currently valued at USD 10 billion, is indeed very promising; the material portion alone, such as the “Ink” for printing, accounts for 10 to 30 percent of the market.
Whereas plastics, metals and ceramics have established themselves in the market, glass and the respective printing machines are still very much at the early stages of the game. At the moment, it is used only as filler material in plastic 3D printing or as an additive in prosthetics applications. As print material for more demanding applications, where typical glass properties such as optical quality can be increasingly played off, glass powder, pastes, rods or tubing are optimal. Bracha explains that 3D printers for glass face a special challengesince the material must be melted and made printable at temperatures of over 1000 degrees Celsius. As “ink” for its closet-sized high-tech machines, Micron E.M.E uses AR-GLAS® and DURAN® borosilicate glass from SCHOTT.
In addition to SCHOTT’s network, technology expert Dr. Stephan Behle is there to provide material and process know-how to the start-up. With its extensive capabilities in glass technology and the diversity of materials it can provide, SCHOTT is well positioned to offer customized materials and approaches for additive manufacturing processes. “In this way, future 3D printing applications will include the internationally respected ‘SCHOTT quality’ in their development,” explains Dr. Behle. Adds Bracha: “We firmly believe that when we collaborate with globally leading companies – and particularly SCHOTT – we can take our process to the next level.” And how long before that happens? The company head estimates that by the end of the year Micron E.M.E will install first Beta testing 3D printers. “If the technology develops as rapidly as it has in the last two or three years, we will most certainly see in the near future the realization of technologically demanding 3D glass applications in hollow glass and laboratory glass as well as optics,” notes Behle. The first work groups have already set long-term goals in the development of 3D printing solutions for optical components such as gradient lenses (Missouri University of Science & Technology, Prof. Ed Kinzel). Until then, there is still a long road ahead to reach the final destination.