Injection molding transparent glass like a plastic

Researchers present a new, low-temperature method for injection-molding transparent fused silica glass, similar to how many plastic objects are manufactured. According to the authors, the process offers the possibility of producing complex and high-quality glass components using the same fabrication methods that allowed polymers to become one of the most important materials of the 21st century. The optical, thermal, mechanical and chemical properties of silicate glasses make them an ideal non-carbon based, high-performance material with applications ranging from packaging and architecture to high-throughput fiber optic and photonic devices. However, despite being one of the oldest and most relevant materials used by humans today, the technology used to manufacture glass has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Glass processing requires that it be melted at high temperatures – approaching 2,000 degrees Celsius for some glasses – which not only makes the process highly energy intensive, but also difficult to scale industrially. As a result, many components are made using thermoplastic polymers, which can be processed at lower temperatures and using scalable industrial replication techniques like injection molding (IM). Here, Markus Mader and colleagues demonstrate a novel approach in which a plastic, silica-based nanocomposite can be used for low-temperature injection molding to manufacture glass. Using established IM process technologies and low-temperature (~1,300°C) sintering, the authors could produce precise and highly transparent glass components in as little as five seconds per piece. “Mader et al. have demonstrated the use of pelletized glass-forming composites that are compatible with conventional, low-temperature injection molding – a process used in the high-volume manufacture of polymeric components,” writes Rebecca Dylla-Spears in a related Perspective.


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