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Glassomer – A Revolution in Glass Processing

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Glassomer (Glassomer – A Revolution in Glass Processing)

Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-03-31

Glass is one of the oldest materials known and remains a very relevant material for industry and society in the 21st century: from optics to glass fiber technology, laboratory equipment to decorative elements and glazing. Whenever scratch-resistance and chemical resistance is required in combination with high transparency, glass is the first choice. Today many industries chose polymers to produce their components, even if glass would have the better material properties. That is because glass is very difficult to shape: either from high temperature melts, via grinding or etching with aggressive chemicals or lasers. Polymers on the other hand are easily produced in all shapes and sizes using industrially scalable processes like injection molding, casting or 3D printing. Our recently invented and patented Glassomer® process allows for the very first time to structure glasses with these same methods. Society benefits from the sustainability of the process as it requires no aggressive chemicals or toxic gases and can save a considerable amount of energy due to the lower temperatures required compared to conventional glass-melting.
The overall objective of this project is to bring the Glassomer® Technology from the level of operational prototypes to complete and qualified systems in target markets. This will ensure the production of high-quality, microstructured glass parts for Glassomer’s customers and the execution of pilot projects with beachhead customers. This involves building of a laboratory-scale manufacturing line to optimize the process parameters and then moving production to a pilot production line at higher throughput and a final scale-up with several production lines and detailed quality control. The qualified manufacturing is accompanied by an effective patent strategy and business development. Ultimately, Glassomer aims at becoming a leading producer of high-quality microstructured glass components.
The project started in April 2021. Glassomer has provided the requested deliverables in form of a Project Handbook. According to the work plan, Glassomer has been working on all work packages of the action. Until April 2022, Glassomer has hired a total of eight employees for managing, manufacturing and sales. A virtual shares (VSOP) program was designed by the legal advisors which will be set into place in 2022. Additional workforce will be hired in the second year of the project, which is expected to be easier than in the first year, where travel and relocation was restricted by the pandemic. A laboratory setup was completed for the technology development using a medium-throughput injection molding (IM) machine (see Figure 1). In the project, processes and technology were optimized to allow for the production of at least 500 pieces at high quality in line with the first milestone set for this project. The processes for optimizing the manufacturing allowed the fabrication of high-quality optical components like microlens arrays (MLA) and refractive lenses (see Figure 2). In cooperation with the microfluidic ChipShop in Jena, a process for precision IM of microfluidic chips was developed (see Figure 3). The process includes the high-throughput molding of Glassomer® Materials on a large-scale injection molding machine, and sealing the chip with a thin Glassomer® foil (see Figure 3). This way, the first chips were produced leakage-free and with connectors attached, which are expected to be on the market by end of 2022. A larger production facility was rented to accommodate the scale-up machinery (see Figure 4). A cooperation agreement was set in place with ENGEL to develop the process on an Engel emotion 50/50 fully electric IM machine (see Figure 4). One debinding and two sintering ovens were acquired for the large-scale production of glass components. The high electricity requirements of the scale-up resulted in the need for new electrical connections at the production facilities. The new up-to-date electronics allows for the operation of several IM machines and high-temperature ovens at the new location in Freiburg-Lehen.
Glassomer has filed 5 patents on the technology in accordance with the IP strategy promised in this action. No patent infringements were observed for the period and no competing solutions have appeared on the market. With the GP-silica explorer kit for glass-printing with high-resolution 3D printers (Nanoscribe GmbH) a novel Glassomer® material solution was commercialized.
For the innovation and the technology transfer achieved, Glassomer has won the prestigious Lothar-Späth-Award 2021 for clever innovations of the state of Baden-Württemberg. To ensure further dissemination of the project, Glassomer aims to be present in prominent media outlets. Glassomer was featured in several media outlets since the start of this project: The VDI (Association of German Engineers) has featured Glassomers 3D printing and injection molding in an article (Glas, klar gedruckt https://www.vdi-nachrichten.com/technik/additive-fertigung/glas-klar-3d-gedruckt/). Additionally, the podcast “Druckwelle” of ingenieur.de has provided a special on energy-saving glass production by Glassomer (https://druckwelle.podigee.io/35-glas-energiesparend-drucken). The “Nachrichten aus der Chemie”, the news outlet of the German Society of Chemists will print a feature on Glassomer injection molding in April. The 3D Printing abilities of Glassomer were extended to include fused deposition modeling and presented in a publication of the chair of process technology of the University of Freiburg (DOI 10.1002/advs.202103180). The podcast “Maschinen Raum” conducted an interview with co-founder Dr. Frederik Kotz (#207 Die Revolution der Glasherstellung – Interview mit Frederik Kotz von Glassomer, https://www.rathmann-engineering.com/207-die-revolution-der-glasherstellung-interview-mit-frederik-kotz-von-glassomere/). Dr. Kotz and Prof. Rapp are currently editing a book on “additive manufacturing of glass” with contributions of major glass scientists around the world. A new project homepage was designed and is set to be launched in April 2022.
With our worldwide unique Glassomer® Technology, Glassomer is the only company that can produce transparent fused silica glass components in nearly arbitrary shapes on an industrial scale. The current economic situation displays the dire need for reduced energy and gas consumptions in the EU to reduce the dependence on energy or energy sources delivered from foreign countries. A much-noticed video of German glass-makers has pointed out the immense problems this industry is currently facing: the high costs for energy and gas make conventional glass-making uneconomical. Especially in the state of Thuringia, which traditionally hosts a large number of glass-making companies, large numbers of people are facing the loss of their employment. Glassomer aims to provide a less energy-intense process for the glass industry, which could be a game changer for maintaining this industry.
Sources:
https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal-update/glasindustrie-mit-existenzsorgen-100.html
https://www.handelsblatt.com/dpa/wirtschaft-handel-und-finanzen-wir-verbrennen-geld-glasbranche-schlaegt-wegen-energiekosten-alarm/28133806.html
https://www.br.de/mediathek/video/strom-und-gas-glasindustrie-leidet-unter-steigenden-energiepreisen-av:617c32a1c546aa0007f25705
Figure 2: Optical parts manufactured at Glassomer. Left: Reflector, plate and microlens array (MLA),
Figure 1: Medium-throughput injection molding machine for laboratory setup.
Figure 5: Glassomer has won the Lothar Späth Award 2021. The GP-Silica Explorer Kit of Nanoscribe is
Figure 4: Large-scale production space and injection molding machinery. Left: An additional manufact
Figure 3: Glassomer established a process for injection molding of biochips in fused silica glass, s