What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a process in which materials are built up layer by layer to create an object. This is in contrast to other, subtractive manufacturing processes, where an object is cut, milled or carved from a block of material. The AM process involves first designing a three-dimensional (3D) object using computer aided design (CAD) software. The digital 3D design is then divided into many two-dimensional layers using slicing software. These two-dimensional layers are then sent to a 3D printer, instructing it where to lay down material in order to build up the finished object, one layer at a time.
AM is a flexible manufacturing process. Key advantages for businesses include the following.
- The ability to create objects that cannot be produced by other manufacturing methods, such as objects within objects, ready assembled components and movable or articulated parts.
- The facilitation of rapid prototyping. As moulds are not required, prototypes can be designed, printed, tested and modified quickly and with very little up-front investment.
- Opportunities for mass customisation. Unique products can be produced according to individual requirements, without the need to adhere to economies of scale principles.
- On-demand production. This can help businesses to avoid waste and eliminate unsold stock.
How is additive manufacturing being used in TRANSFORM-CE?
AM is an umbrella term for a number of different technologies based on the same principles described above but using different materials and curing mechanisms. As TRANSFORM-CE is focused on transforming single use plastic waste streams into new, valuable products, one AM technology in particular, known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is being used in the project. FFF uses thermoplastics (the same materials found in single use plastic waste) extruded into continuous, long strands called filaments, which are wound onto spools. Spools are loaded into FFF 3D printers, which then apply heat to the filament, melting the thermoplastic. This melted plastic is forced through a nozzle, which traces each 2D layer of a 3D design, laying down material one layer on top of another. As the thermoplastic cools it hardens, producing a solid 3D printed part.
TRANSFORM-CE is converting a variety of single use plastic waste materials into recycled AM filament, including:
- polyethylene terephthalate (PET), e.g. drinks bottles
- polylactic acid (PLA), e.g. coffee cup lids
- acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), e.g. end of life vehicle dashboards
- polypropylene (PP), e.g. yoghurt pots
- low density polyethylene (LDPE), e.g. plastic bags and food trays
- high density polyethylene (HDPE), e.g. containers and bottles
The project is also developing new filament formulas to improve performance and add functionality, such as conductivity, flexibility and reinforced strength, as well as conducting a life cycle analysis for the materials and technology.
As the 3D prints made from the recycled filament can be reprocessed and recycled back into filament to be printed again, TRANSFORM-CE partners will also establish the number of times this process can be repeated before the material quality degrades and the plastic is no longer useable. FFF is a relatively low cost and accessible technology that TRANSFORM-CE is promoting to businesses across North West Europe as a means of utilising readily available thermoplastics sourced from waste and turning these into attractive circular products and business models. AM is already being used in the aerospace, medical, automotive, energy, infrastructure, and consumer products sectors. In today’s world of supply chain and logistics issues, AM’s potential for shortened supply chains, improved performance, complex geometries and simplified fabrication presents opportunities for a whole range of industries and applications.
Benefits to manufacturers and the environment
If you are interested in understanding how AM and recycled filaments made from single use plastic waste can be applied within your business, enquire today!
TRANSFORM-CE offers the following fully funded support to SMEs throughout NW Europe.
- Valorising plastic waste streams by turning these materials into new products for sale.
- Technical support to integrate intrusion-extrusion moulding or additive manufacturing technology within your business.
- Improving the circularity of in-house prototyping, modelling, visualisation and on-demand production activities by switching to recycled additive manufacturing filaments.
- Leveraging additive manufacturing and recycled filaments to create custom parts and components for sale and service delivery (e.g. repair).
- Leveraging intrusion-extrusion moulding to design innovative new products from recycled plastic (e.g. roof tiles and playground equipment).
- Applying intrusion-extrusion moulding technology to upscale production for recycled plastic products and components.
Businesses, schools and individuals can also request free spools of recycle filament to trial here.