The researchers present a new low-temperature method for injection molding transparent quartz glass, similar to how many plastic objects are made. According to the authors, the process offers the possibility of producing complex and high-quality glass components using the same manufacturing processes that made polymers one of the most important materials of the 21st century. The optical, thermal, mechanical, and chemical properties of silica glasses make them an ideal, high-performance, carbon-free material with applications ranging from packaging and architecture to high-throughput fiber optic and photonic devices. Although it is one of the oldest and most relevant materials used by humans today, the technology used to make glass has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Glass processing requires that it be melted at high temperatures – for some glasses close to 2,000 degrees Celsius – which not only makes the process very energy-intensive, but also makes it difficult to scale industrially. As a result, many components are made using thermoplastic polymers that can be processed at lower temperatures and using scalable industrial replication techniques such as injection molding (IM). Here Markus Mader and colleagues are demonstrating a novel approach in which a plastic nanocomposite based on silica can be used for low-temperature injection molding to produce glass. Using established IM process technologies and low-temperature sintering (~ 1,300 ° C), the authors were able to produce precise and highly transparent glass components in just 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 high volume manufacturing of polymer components,” writes Rebecca Dylla-Spears in a related perspective.
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