3D printingis gaining in popularity; independent studies from 2019 have documented global market growth. In Germany alone, every third company already uses the print solution – primarily due to the customising options it offers.
THE FUTURE OF 3D PRINTING
At international shipping companies like UPS and FedEx, 3D printing departments for packaging, logistics and deliveries have become indispensable. These two companies now aim to focus on using the 3D printing process to manufacture spare parts. To do so, UPS has brought software manufacturer SAP on board to ensure that demand-orientated production using the 3D printing process runs smoothly. An accelerated and standardised process that covers the entire chain, from production to delivery, is to lead to a higher number of production parts made using the 3D printing process.
Even though the procurement costs for these printing devices are steadily falling, 3D printing has not yet become a fixture in private households. The process could conceivably be used for repairs, for example. From handles on kitchen cupboards to knobs on radios – users can make spare parts in just a few, short minutes. And they can even determine the colour of the parts by using different filaments. According to a recent study, a large number of respondents can also imagine printing decorative items, such as vases (62 percent of all respondents). Even though it is possible to use the 3D printing process to make food products, around one third of respondents are sceptical when it comes to chocolate and marzipan figures fresh from the 3D printer.
But that may change in future. One of the world’s most well-known companies has joined the effort to find a solution that simultaneously makes 3D printing more affordable: The Coca-Cola Company has invested in circular economy and recycling in the past years. In 2014, the beverage group cooperated with the creative director of 3D Systems, a technology company, and created an environmentally friendly 3D printer for private use. Packaging 360: The EKOCYCLE printer uses filaments made of up to 25 percent recycled plastic – and this plastic comes from used bottles. It takes three 500 ml PET Coca-Cola bottles to make one 3D printing cartridge. Once it has been shredded, the recycled plastic is made into pellets or granules and is then heated before it is finally wound around a spool as a filament.
Transforming old bottles into something new or Packaging 360: The EKOCYCLE 3D printer for home use uses filaments made of up to 25 percent recycled plastic. Each cartridge is made out of three 500 ml PET Coca-Cola bottles. Photo: Coca-Cola Germany
Sustainable Packaging 360
But plastic bottles are not the only things that can be used as environmentally-friendly filaments for 3D printers. Around the world, packaging experts are pursuing innovative solutions for sustainable printing materials. An overview of the latest technologies:
The Netherlands Besides bottles, the Netherlands collects white yoghurt tubs and old refrigerators, among other things, and processes them into filaments for 3D printers.
France The French are banking on mussel shells and oysters as a base for their 3D filaments, along with wheat and coffee waste.
USA Besides coffee and plastic bottles, the USA use two unusual, organic products as the basis for their filaments: hemp and beer.
Other sustainable raw materials used in filaments around the world Soy, seaweed, cornflour and even wood, bamboo and coconuts.
Packaging 360 in civic planning
In 2015, China printed a four-storey building in 3D, using a mixture of cement, industrial waste and recycled fibreglass. One year later, DUS Architects in Amsterdam teamed up with Henkel and also designed an urban Packaging 360 concept: At the end of the process, the printer created a canal house that is made of 80 percent sustainable materials.
And Rotterdam is sending the “Print your City!” Packaging 360 concept out into the world. Plastic waste is transformed into furniture for cities using large-scale 3D printing processes. Since February 2019, residents in Thessaloniki have been reaping the benefits of their partnership with The New Raw, who in turn are supported by large companies like The Coca-Cola Company. This unusual concept aims to help private individuals participate in plastic recycling whilst improving the appearance of their home town at the same time.