Researchers have developed a new way to 3D-print glass microstructures that is faster and produces objects with higher optical quality, design flexibility, and strength.
The researchers expanded the capabilities of a 3D-printing process they developed three years ago — computed axial lithography (CAL) — to print much finer features and to print in glass. They dubbed this new system “micro-CAL.”
Glass is the preferred material for creating complex microscopic objects, including lenses in a compact, high-quality cameras used in smartphones and endoscopes and microfluidic devices used to analyze or process minute amounts of liquid.
The CAL process is fundamentally different from today’s industrial 3D-printing manufacturing processes, which build up objects from thin layers of material. CAL, however, 3D-prints the entire object simultaneously. The researchers used a laser to project patterns of light into a rotating volume of light-sensitive material, building up a 3D light dose that then solidifies in the desired shape. The layer-less nature of the CAL process enables microstructures with smooth surfaces and complex geometries.
The research pushes the boundaries of CAL to demonstrate its ability to print microscale features in glass structures. The new method can print not only into polymers but also into glass, with features down to about 50 millionths of a meter.