Clear is Near

By Debra A. Levy

The quest for a totally transparent facade moved a step closer to reality late last year when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) moved from theory to the controlled production of formed glass via 3-D printing. Since those pieces of glass 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’s the question.

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 individual lites become 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.

3-D 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.

Our Own Award-Winners

You’ve probably seen Chris Bunn at many industry events. He’s the ginger-haired guy filming with a large video camera upon his shoulder. Well if you see Chris in the next few months feel free to offer congratulations as he was the 2018 recipient of the KMR Holly X. Biller Award for Extraordinary Service—our employee of the year. It’s a well-deserved honor for someone who puts his quiet, meticulous touch on everything he does at USGlass and KMR’s other publications. Congratulations, Chris!

Happy New Year

We had a late-breaking story in January which necessitated popping something else into my space here, so I have not yet properly wished you a happy and healthy New Year. I hope your year is prosperous and joyful. It is always an honor to work for you and for this industry.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.