A team of researchers from the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada have successfully 3D printed chalcogenide glass for the first time. The material, which is used to make optical components for mid-infrared wavelength applications, now has the potential to be made into more complex parts, such as optical fibers, for more affordable sensors, telecommunications components and biomedical devices.
The research team, from the university’s Centre d’Optique, Photonique et Laser (COPL), achieved the 3D printing milestone by adapting an existing commercial FDM 3D printer to be able to process the chalcogenide glass.
This was possible because chalcogenide glass softens at a lower temperature than other glass. By upping the 3D printer’s maximum extrusion temperature from 260°C to 330°C, the research team was able to extrude a special chalcogenide glass filament which was designed to have similar dimensions to conventional plastic filament.
“Our approach is very well suited for soft chalcogenide glass, but alternative approaches are also being explored to print other types of glass,” said researcher Yannick Ledemi. “This could allow fabrication of components made of multiple materials. Glass could also be combined with polymers with specialized electro-conductive or optical properties to produce multi-functional 3D printed devices.”
Down the line, 3D printing could also be used to produce fiber preforms with highly complex geometries and even multiple materials. Once the researcher’s design and fabrication techniques have been refined, the technology could be put to use for the production of low-cost infrared glass components or fiber preforms.
“3D printed chalcogenide-based components would be useful for infrared thermal imaging for defense and security applications,” added Ledemi. “They would also enable sensors for pollutant monitoring, biomedicine and other applications where the infrared chemical signature of molecules is used for detection and diagnosis.”
Presently, the COPL researchers are working on improving the 3D printer hardware to optimize performance and to enable the production of even more complex chalcogenide glass parts. Eventually, the team plans to add a second extruder to the 3D printer to explore the potential of 3D printing multi-material components made up of glass and polymers.
“3D printing of optical materials will pave the way for a new era of designing and combining materials to produce the photonic components and fibers of the future,” said Ledemi. “This new method could potentially result in a breakthrough for efficient manufacturing of infrared optical components at a low cost.”
The innovative research was recently published in The Optical Society’s journal Optical Materials Express.