3D Printing

Let’s 3D Print our World Differently!

Guest author Sadaf Atarod picks up another thread in the conversation about sustainable materials for home 3D printing, as started by Richard Horne last week on 3DPI. Both of these guest authors were prompted to pound their keyboards after meeting William Hoyle at the 3D Printshow in London, and witnessing the launch of the Ethical Filament Foundation. Sadaf’s research work sees her considering 3D bioprinting as a solution to organ donor shortages. However, here, her focus is on 3D printing in general and how it will impact future generations.

‘Mommy, let me print just one more avatar…she is all alone!’ said my seven year old daughter who has been learning how to work her way around a kid-friendly 3D printing program — thanks to her grandparents who thought the program would ignite the creativity in her and to us the ‘21st century gadget-savvy parents’ who thought it was best for her to start learning about 3D printing before she has lost an interest in learning itself! However, this doesn’t properly illustrate the true picture of all her hundreds (or more) toys scattered across our home. You might have already guessed in which direction I am heading or… may be not … this is not a story of my parental skills!

The thing is, I had a Eureka moment while I was visiting the 3D Printshow 2013 down in London, and yes, I had my excited seven year old with me! Looking at the event program, I was pleased to see that medical applications of additive manufacturing were well represented, but equally appalled by the sheer number of desktop 3D printers and how the major focus was on the printing of personalized products — in particular figurines and toys. It doesn’t need any market intelligence to figure out that customized products and toys for kids can be gold mines. 3D printing does ignite the creativity and enhance the computing skills of our children but at the same time pushes them towards making more products that end up as landfill. How many times do our kids play with the same toy before it is thrown to the back of their over-loaded toy baskets? It was only eight months ago that I was at the Makers Faire in Newcastle and clearly saw how children of all ages interact with 3D printing technology — as humans we love customisation and so do our kids! If you have taken your child to any such events you will definitely understand and relate to how difficult it can be to even walk them to the next stand just because they enjoy making things and the appreciation that comes with a product created by their tiny hands — especially if your child is a Lego fanatic, like mine!

Learning to code and being able to 3D print will soon be part of the curriculum and our next generation will be equipped with exceptional skills that can change the world we live in now and the one that their children will live in. However, there is a parallel downside — more landfill. There is no point in them learning to print just another additional product, we need to channel their intelligence, creativity and joy in this hands-on activity towards the creation of products that are of use to them rather than just another toy! Simultaneously, we need to expose them to the impact of their creations — show them the waste that can fill up the blue planet!

We no longer have the resources or space to fill up with landfills. We need to learn from the past and improve our technology adaptations so that they are sustainable and eco-friendly. According to Ecover, there are more than two million plastic bottles used in the UK on a daily basis leading to the accumulation of 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually. So do we really want to add more to the pile? Almost all the present 3D printing filaments are some formulation of plastic at least the ones for desktop printers! There is a move towards eco-friendly ones and even recyclable materials but the steps are turtle-like so more support and enforcements are required to bring about the change in the type of filaments used for 3D printing. As we were looking at the different exhibits, we got to meet William Hoyle from the Ethical Filament Foundation, who had launched the foundation at the 3D Printshow 2013. It was very interesting to learn the aims and objectives of the foundation, especially since I had started to think along the same lines at this exhibition.

Their motive is to create a certification scheme for ethical and sustainable filament for use in 3D printers. In addition, they plan to create both a recyclable filament movement that can aid the 15 million waste pickers who are living under the least suitable conditions globally. The Foundation is working with ProtoPrint as the first certified producer. ProtoPrint is a 3D printing company in India that has done extensive work on the grassroots production of filament from recycled waste plastic in collaboration with an established waste pickers union called SWaCH. The ProtoPrint-SWaCH process is a low-cost, scalable process that empowers waste pickers in India with the technology to produce 3D printer filament from HDPE waste.

Hopefully, with the support of high-profile individuals they can also help sponsor research projects that focus on the best recycling methods for use in 3D printers.  If you are a researcher, you will have heard of how there is also the movement towards open-source publications and so another aim of the Ethical Filament Foundation is to openly share their research with the general public. There is no point in us learning to use a technology and encouraging the next generation to become experts in it if the future only leads to increases in waste. A major plus point of additive manufacturing is how it can reduce the amount of initial material used for printing a product but this will only be an advantage if simultaneously we 3D print wisely at home and probably even in industry. Our motto should not be 3D print whatever you can imagine, but print the sustainable product of the present and future! Even though 3D printing as such is not rapid, the growth of its filament market is and it has been estimated that by the end of 2014, 1.5 million kilos of filaments could potentially be sold each year. Our children may want to print an EVE today to be their WALL-E’s companion but, it won’t take long before they themselves end up as the future WALL-E so we should act now and start printing differently!

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