It is difficult to imagine how a tiny, chemically, and optically complex glass fiber could be made using an additive manufacturing process. However, researchers at the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Center are now using 3D-printing techniques to fabricate optical fibers.
"We will design, fabricate and employ novel Multiple Materials Additive Manufacturing (MMAM) equipment to enable us to make optical fibre preforms (both in conventional and microstructured fibre geometries) in silica and other host glass materials," said Professor Jayanta Sahu of the Optoelectronics Research Center.
The making of the preform is one of the most challenging stages of optical fiber manufacturing, especially when the preform has a complex internal structure. Using their new additive manufacturing technique, the researchers will be able to form complex fiber structures from ultra-pure glass powder, layer-by-layer, gradually building up the shape to create a preform several tens of centimetres in lengths.
This technology will potentially open the door to manufacturing novel fiber structures in silica and other glasses for a wide range of applications, covering telecommunications, sensing, lab-in-a-fiber, metamaterial fiber, and high-power lasers, says Sahu.