3D Printing and Sustainability

Stampa 3D Sostenibile

3D Printing and Sustainability: an ecological future with 3D printing?

Eco-sustainability concerns all sectors, including 3D printing. Many companies are redefining their business to meet regulatory targets and save costs. Providing an ecosystem with sustainable processes and technologies is essential to preserving the planet’s resources for future generations.

Numerous advantages 3D printing offers to any production field, including an excellent contribution to eco-sustainability, are outlined below. As a process of creating objects through a mechanism that involves layering materials on top of each other, 3D printing can be beneficial in minimising the impact on the environment and better managing our resources. Moreover, this is all based on a highly functional concept of minimising material waste. This means there are several industrial and other applications where 3D printing can consider this issue and optimise everything.

The problem of plastic waste

Among the most essential campaigns environmentalists have carried out in recent years is the one dedicated to combating plastic pollution, which affects land, seas, and oceans. For decades, man has been building disposable plastic objects such as cups, detergent containers, plates, and much more, not caring that the environment would be unable to dispose of them on its own.

The excessive spread of plastic worldwide has caused pollution in almost every corner of the planet, devastatingly affecting the entire ecosystem. In response, national and EU authorities have decided to take a virtuous path by banning plastic in favour of biodegradable materials. Efforts have also been made to remove plastic waste from nature and repurpose it into everyday goods. Notably, plastic waste has been recovered from the ocean and transformed into 3D-printable materials, which can be used to create various useful items, such as furniture and accessories. This initiative aims to reduce the amount of waste generated in our daily lives.

Solutions for a sustainable future with additive manufacturing

The main features of 3D printing fit perfectly with the concept of circular economy as there is a production of objects that require fewer resources than traditional channels and with a minimal impact on the environment because the life cycle is prolonged thanks also to on-demand spare parts that can be made at any time and with the possibility of respecting all specificities.

The future seems to be mapped out, but it is worth remembering how 3D printing also allows for immediate solutions for companies adopting this standard, as it guarantees maximum versatility concerning the possible changes that the market increasingly demands. There are several cases in Italy of companies using 3D printing that have converted some of their products quickly to better absorb the market’s demands. Customisation and sustainability are two sides of the coin that only 3D printing can guarantee.

3D printing technologies

Speaking generically about 3D printing is reductive because the technology offers different solutions that start with the same concept but achieve different results. In particular, SLA FS resin printing is recommended for functional prototyping and tooling moulds.

In this case, thermosetting materials that react to light are used. Different geometries are obtained by changing the wavelength of the light, which can be rigid or flexible, depending on requirements.

The advantages include maximum resolution and precision and the possibility of selecting versatile materials for the type of end product to be obtained. Another 3D printing technology considered for high customisation and sustainability is the Multi Jet Fusion, known by the acronym MJF.

It is a pretty different method based on a straightforward concept because parts are created additionally with the so-called multi-agent printing process. Its use is particularly suitable if you want to speed up the printing process because it is up to 10 times faster than SLS and FDM technology.

Furthermore, this 3D printing technology uses plastic, meaning that plastics recovered from the environment can be reused to create various products, resulting in complex and highly detailed designs. Other advantages relate to the material’s characteristics because it is highly elastic and impact-resistant.

Remaining on the subject of quality and the definition of all aspects of a product, it is interesting to evaluate another innovative technology realised with special printers. We are talking about Direct Extrusion. As you can understand from its name, it is an approach that allows you to vary the extrusion speed. You can choose it 20 to 50 times higher than the extrusion speed you get with a more traditional method of 3D printing, such as FDM.

This technology is well-suited for eco-sustainability standards due to its significantly lower cost than FDM. The revolutionary approach allows for creating larger products without incurring excessive costs, which provides a significant advantage for companies. These standards are specifically designed for the architecture and construction sector, with the ability to utilize a wide range of recycled and recyclable materials. This approach also enhances eco-sustainability by promoting the reuse of materials obtained from the demolition of buildings, enabling the manufacturing of new products such as recycled wood fibres and PP.

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