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The Ultimate Test: Can You 3D Print Glass?

gif of 3d printing glass
From houses to food and even to live human organs, we’ve shown you how incredibly versatile 3D printers can be. But now the ultimate test to see if 3D printers can truly create anything: Is it possible to 3D print a glass object?

Well, the researchers at Virginia Tech and the Rhode Island School of Design were certainly up to the challenge! They have created a system and lab for research into the art of 3D printing glass. And before you ask, yes—they have a robot that can, in fact, print glass!

According to TechCrunch, the teams created a robotic arm extruder that squirts molten glass out onto a ceramic tile. Another robotic arm moves the tile around to create layer after layer of shapes. This video shows you the crazy (but still really cool!) process of 3D printing a glass cylinder. Check it out for yourself!

Now, as you can imagine, glass printing is a pretty tricky process. It requires a lot of heat and a lot of luck and a general acceptance that your print will look awful simply because the glass will cool unevenly. The resulting objects aren’t very complex or high-resolution and it appears that the melting process is still primitive. But hey—you’re 3D printing with glass. Once you get over all of those little imperfections, you’re ready to rock and roll.

“This research is an example of innovation that can occur at the intersection of art, design, technology, and science,” said Stefanie Pender, a glass artist at RISD. “Instead of a technology-driven approach, we can approach digital fabrication from a place of profound material understanding. This research is evidence that the traditional technical arts will not be replaced by digital fabrication, instead, the technical arts will help to drive and support the direction of future making.”

This sort of “artisanal” 3D printing is quite interesting and it’s the kind of story that really excites us here at Dream It Do It. It’s the type of research and science that melds technology and art and offers a way to do some really interesting stuff with difficult materials. See? Who says science projects are boring!

The team admits that they have a long way to go before printing objects with the precision and clarity of other 3D printers, but everyone has to start somewhere. Just think: if this kind of technology can be scaled up to the industrial scale, we could literally print skyscrapers in real time! Now how cool would that be? Hey, if you can dream it, you can do it!

Photo credit: glassrobotics.org via TechCrunch

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