Model-guided design and characterization of a high-precision 3D printing process for carbohydrate glass

M. K. Gelber, G. Hurst, T. J. Comi, R. Bhargava

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water-soluble glass patterned by 3D printing is a versatile tool for tissue engineering and microfluidics. Glasses can be patterned layer-by-layer as in conventional fused deposition modeling but also along 3D, “freeform” paths. In the latter approach, extruding heated material through a nozzle translating in 3D space allows for fabrication of sparse, freestanding networks of cylindrical filaments. These freeform structures are suitable for sacrificial molding with a variety of media, leaving complex microchannel networks. However, 3D printing carbohydrate glass in this way presents several unique challenges: 1) the material must resist degradation and crystallization during printing, 2) the glass must be hot enough to flow freely during extrusion and fuse to the printed construct, while cooling rapidly to retain its shape upon exiting the nozzle, 3) the extruder needs to apply high pressure, with rapid stop and start times and 4) the net force that acts on the filament during extrusion must be minimized so that the filament shape is predictable, i.e., coincides with the path taken by the nozzle. First, we review the properties of commercially available carbohydrate glasses and provide a guide for processing isomalt, our material of choice, to achieve the best printing performance. A pressure-controlled, piston-driven extruder is then described which allows for rapid responses and precise control over the material flow rate. We then analyze the heat transfer within the filament and the forces that contribute to the filament's final shape. We find that the dominant force is due to the radial flow of the molten glass as it exits the nozzle. This analysis is validated on a purpose-built isomalt 3D printer, which we utilize to characterize relationships between extrusion pressure, translation speed, filament diameter, and viscous force. The insights of the physics of the printing process enable fabrication of intricate freeform prints as well as layer-by-layer designs. The practical and theoretical considerations should facilitate adoption of additive manufacturing of carbohydrate glasses with applications to a wide variety of fields, including tissue engineering and microfluidics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-50
Number of pages13
JournalAdditive Manufacturing
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Carbohydrate glass
  • Direct-write assembly
  • Freeform 3D-printing
  • Wireframe 3D-printing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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