High-Fidelity Additive Manufacturing of Transparent Glass Structures

2018  Inamura, C., Stern, M., Lizardo, D., Houk, P., and Oxman, N, Proceedings of the IASS Annual Symposium. 2018.,


Optically transparent and structurally sound, glass plays a significant role in the development of the built environment and its relationship with the natural environment. Glass manufacturing methods such as blowing, pressing, and forming–along with modern float glass processes–all aim to increase performance and functionality. Nonetheless, techniques and technologies enabling controlled tunability of optical and mechanical properties at high spatial resolution remain an end without a means. This paper presents novel design, engineering, and construction processes of large-scale 3D printed glass structures enabled by a new high-fidelity large-scale additive manufacturing technology for optically transparent glass. The described research builds upon previous work conducted by The Mediated Matter Group at MIT in scaling a proof-of-concept to an industrial manufacturing process. The present technology makes novel use of digitally integrated thermal control and motion control systems to produce glass structures with tunable and predictable mechanical and optical properties. Illustrative structures in the form of three-meter tall freestanding glass columns were optimized under material constraints of the viscoelastic filaments to provide highly efficient structural and optical performance. A motion-controlled light was integrated inside each column, and the interplay between light and changing morphology of the printed glass was optically magnified, transforming the exhibition space into a dynamic landscape of luminous caustics. A series of material and mechanical characterizations were conducted in order to evaluate the fidelity and repeatability of the new manufacturing platform, as well as the structural performance of the resulting glass products in order to determine the safety factors required to execute a public installation. The 3D printed glass structures presented here were exhibited for the first time at the Triennale Design Museum as part of Milan Design Week 2017.

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