3D printing technology has now crossed another big milestone. Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(LLNL) have successfully 3D printed optical quality glasses. Incredibly, they have done so using only commercial 3D printers currently available in the market.In a study published in the leading journal Advanced Materials Technologies, the scientists and engineers have described the successful 3D printing from small test pieces with lab-developed ink a ‘success’ with the quality of the test pieces within the range of commercial optic grade glass.
Rebecca Dylla-Spears, a chemical engineer involved in the discovery at LLNL said,” Components printed from molten glass often show texture from the 3D-printing process, and even if you were to polish the surface, you would still see evidence of the printing process within the bulk material”. “This approach allows us to obtain the index homogeneity that is needed for optics. Now we can take these components and do something interesting,” she also state that the custom inks aimed at forming silica-titania and silica allowed the researchers to fine tune the glass’s mechanical, thermal and optical properties.
As this was only an experiment, the researchers printed only small and simple shaped optics as a proof of concept, but this 3D manufacturing technique could eventually be used anywhere in manufacturing designs that were previously thought to be unattainable by presently used manufacturing methods. 3D manufacturing could make many things possible, like making gradient refractive index lenses get polished flat, which would replace many expensive polishing techniques used for traditional curved lenses.
Discovery of 3D Printed Optic glass has opens up a new design space that hasn't existed in the past, allowing for design of both the optic shape and the optical properties within the material.