Alternative Materials that Can Be Used in 3D Printing
Because the field of additive manufacturing offers application in almost every area of manufacturing and production, alternatives to traditional materials will rapidly follow transitions away from traditional techniques for creating objects.
As 3D-printed buildings become available in the form of extruded concrete structures, a more efficient approach to construction becomes possible. Elements such as power conduits and plumbing can be created directly within the structure itself during printing.
Rapid assembly systems might create components on one side of a new building and assemble them on the other while the 3D fabricator builds up one layer of concrete after another with the proper voids already in place for the other components. New ways to use recycled materials would be a natural fit for this process.
In addition to stimulating the development of new materials, additive manufacturing can make more efficient use of existing materials by
reducing need for new materials by reducing waste
re-using, recycling, and repurposing materials already in use
Artist Dirk Vander Kooij, for example, has taken the plastic from old refrigerators to create extruded furniture in his Endless line. Other inventors have been working on devices that home users can use to create new 3D-printing filament from inexpensive bulk pellets or even their old failed prints and waste thermoplastic materials.
Thus, additive manufacturing offers the chance to “green” the making of new materials and products in several ways:
Reducing the need for materials in the initial manufacturing process by eliminating post-fabrication machining and waste-material cut-offs
Allowing the efficient creation of complex structures with interior voids not possible in traditional casting or injection-molding
Recovering and recycling materials for use in 3D printing
Such advantages can help realize longer-term sustainability in the face of reduced resources in the post-peak-oil economy projected to begin around 2020.
Research is currently proving early successes in using recycled paper, glass, and pulverized concrete to create new material for additive manufacturing. In addition, more environmentally favorable materials are emerging, such as the fully biodegradable plant-sugar based PLA thermoplastic.
As bioprinting continues to expand its capabilities, new types of foods and other animal-based goods may become possible without resorting to killing live animals or maintaining massive quantities of livestock with fresh water and edible grain that could be put to use feeding the ever-growing number of humans.
NASA is currently funding research into a 3D printer that can produce foods such as pizza from powdered basic materials that can be emulsified into pastes using only water.
The pastes would be extruded layer by layer, even cooked by the heated build plate of a special-purpose 3D printer designed for operation in the long-term exploration of the moon and other planets in the solar system. The shelf life of such powdered foods is targeted for 30 years or more, allowing the creation of food stockpiles that can be distributed as needed ahead of major storms.
Care for people
In the wake of a major catastrophe, a mobile additive manufacturing facility could provide food and shelter even as damaged structures and debris are collected and recycled into the material that will form replacements for all that was lost to the flood, earthquake, or tsunami. Injuries may be repaired using 3D bioprinters to create compatible tissue based on living cells collected from the injured — avoiding issues of tissue matching.
In daily use, 3D printers may take on the role of custom formularies, creating whole courses of medications precisely matched to individual patients’ needs. Instead of taking two pills of medication X each day for ten days and then one pill of medication X and one pill of medication Y in a particular course of treatment, a patient could simplify the regimen.
Specialized 3D printers will soon be able to create each day’s medications in the minimum possible number of pills, delivering exactly the combination, dosage, and proportions of medications needed for each day’s treatment so that individual patient needs can be uniquely treated by the personalized course of medications filled into each pill.