We've told you several times about the 3D-printable clear optical material and online Printoptical process of LUXeXceL. But 3D printing and optics still don't make an intuitively obvious combination.
A new twist on the idea comes from the UK's University of Southampton. A team of researchers there have come up with a way to 3D print transparent optical fibers like those used in fiber-optic telecommunications cables. Normally, those cables are constructed from fine glass fibers manufactured to ensure materials with a consistent composition. Using 3D printing to manufacture optical fibers in layers, though, could enable the combination of a variety of glass materials, resulting in complex mixes that improve each fiber's reflectivity and thus reduce optical power losses.
The materials in this lighted public water fountain transform light, as do optical glass fiber cables used in telecommunications networks.
(Source: University of Southampton)
The team, led by professor Jayanta Sahu, says it will design and build Multiple Materials Additive Manufacturing (MMAM) equipment to make the fibers in silica and other host glass materials. The new process will make it possible to combine materials in complex preforms, which would otherwise be too difficult or time consuming -- or even impossible -- to do, using other fabrication techniques.
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After an extensive testing phase to establish the technology, specialty optical fiber preforms made with the new 3D printing process will target fiber laser applications, such as are used for telecommunications, laser beam delivery, and sensors. Instead of competing with existing telecom fiber, the team expects to tailor fiber geometry and waveguide properties to transmit light at other frequencies where existing fiber tends to experience loss.
In Search of 3D Printed Fiber Optics | EE Times
Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 27 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.