The talk around printing your very own pair of trainers or a new saucepan set has been a hot topic when it comes to 3D printing. But, aside from being an amazing way of creating whatever item your heart desires, the 3D printing can also go a long way to helping solve much greater problems — even world hunger and pollution.
Part of the additive manufacturing industry, it works from a computerised, digital design to create a product one layer at a time.
With the pandemic ongoing, many 3D printing companies are reaching out to assist with raising money to create face masks and splash shields to meet the shortage of PPE for NHS staff.
This innovative technology, it seems, is pushing the boundaries to create new products in an almost magical way.
So, in what other ways can 3D printing help some of these wide-scale problems faced worldwide? While still in the early stages and going through constant cycles of development, 3D printing holds some great potential.
Here are 5 ways it’s helping the world become cleaner, greener and safer:
Transforming Use of Recycled Materials
3D printers are becoming much more advanced than they used to be and are quickly rising as a new revolution for using recycled materials. That’s because for many recycled materials, 3D printers can be far more flexible in how they’re used. The printers can crush or grind almost any material into tiny pieces, known as filament, and use this to create brand new items. This includes material from recycled products, as well as eco-friendly materials.
3D Tomorrow, based at 4 sites across the West, has developed its own range of eco-friendly filament made from recycled cardboard, which it also uses for all of its product packaging.
Many companies also use polylactic acid, a type of recyclable plastic made from plants, such as corn starch. Normandy-based 3D printer, Francofil, has developed its filament as a mix of cornstarch and additives made up of organic byproducts, including wheat and coffee grounds, making it more eco-friendly than some other types of PLA used. That’s because it’s chemical-free. Companies are exploring new ways of making use of recycled materials, as well as materials safer for the environment.
Cutting Down on Transport
Pollution from transport fumes and shipping goods across seas contributes to a substantial proportion of global warming. The level of pollution could increase hugely if steps aren’t taken now, according to the International Maritime Organisation.
Rather than shipping items internationally, 3D printers hold an incredible advantage. Printing brand new items that are commonly exported or shipped can save on transport pollution.
Helping reduce transport fumes and costs in the long-term can make a tremendous difference to the impact shipping has on global warming and damage to oceans, as well as shipping costs for businesses.
Questions may still be around quantities and whether printing can meet the demand of full-scale mass production. Research shows it has started to and holds the potential for more, with a number of companies replacing traditional manufacturing to create many different products.
No Material Wasted
With traditional manufacturing methods, not all of the material is used in the process. Material is cut down to size, leaving many scraps left over that can’t be used for other products. Sure, the scraps can be recycled, which means an extra task for workers to clear up the leftovers and arrange for collection.
With 3D printing, there are no leftover materials because products are created one layer at a time. This means that the machines only use the amount of material needed for each layer, making full use of all the material.
Printing Shortages in a Crisis
A crowd-funding campaign has been set up with a team of 8,000 volunteers to raise money to print face masks and splash shields for NHS staff. So far, the 3D Crowd’s campaign has raised funding for 92,000 face masks with funding growing every day. These have been distributed to doctors and nurses, helping them to treat many sick patients while keeping themselves safe.
Meat may also be at risk of being in short supply during the pandemic. This is due to a lack of labour with some businesses placing their staff on furlough. 3D printing could have the answer to this, too. Companies such as Nova Meat, has highly intricate technology that creates a plant-based pork meat using a mix of olive oil, pea and rice isolate, among other ingredients.
What’s more, with Veganism on the rise among the population, a plant-based alternative that can easily be printed is proving a viable option — and one that’s just as healthy.
Food printing has been around for some time, going back to 2006 when astronauts had food printed for their journeys. They had anything from chips, to pizza and even vegetables. The technology has come a long way since then, making more detailed and healthier products for a growing eco-conscious population.
So, what’s the next step for 3D printing? Could addressing food shortages worldwide evolve to solve world hunger? Why not?
Improving energy-efficiency, working on speed while maintaining quality and maximising eco-friendliness are areas undergoing development to improve on 3D processes.
Fine-tuning processes to make the technology even better for the environment shows great potential to help solve the wider problems of the world.