NatureWorks, a US-based company known for its Ingeo biodegradeable PLA, has just entered into a partnership with Ireland’s newly formed 3Dom Filaments Limited. 3Dom will be exclusively manufacturing its filaments out of NatureWorks’ Ingeo PLA and its products will carry the Ingeo logo. According to NatureWorks, “this is the first time NatureWorks has licensed the use of the Ingeo brand name and logo in the 3D printing industry.”
The partner companies involved hint at the quality that can be expected from mass manufacturers. NatureWorks, on the one hand, is experienced in the world of plastics, beginning, in 1989, as a subsidiary of Cargill, a multinational that would be ranked #9 on the Fortune 500 if it were publicly traded, and building “the world’s largest lactic acid manufacturing facility to feed [its] polymer plant” in 2003. 3Dom, on the other hand, is thought, by NatureWorks, to have expertise in manufacturing filaments from their products, as well as superior quality control machines, such as continuous online laser scanning. Global Leader of NatureWorks New Business Segment, Dan Sawyer, has a great deal of confidence in the new company, saying:
“With Ingeo, 3Dom Filament Limited will help to ensure the availability of a PLA monofilament that meets quality standards and reduces filament related printing problems. While the 3Dom company is new, the team there has more than a decade of experience with Ingeo PLA. 3Dom is also actively involved in research and development of Ingeo blends and additives, bringing new performance enhancements to the 3D printing community. NatureWorks is collaborating with customer compounders and additive suppliers, and we intend to develop further strategic relationships around the world to support the growing global 3D printing market.”
3Dom has been researching the Ingeo material for the past year, as 3Dom’s Director, Ciaran McMenamin explained, “We’ve spent a year developing a process for converting Ingeo into a consistently high quality filament portfolio. We have all the primary colours and will be working on others.” This will give 3Dom the ability to cater the precise properties of the Ingeo PLA, altering the stiffness, impact resistance and dimensional stability to develop a variety of filaments for different applications.
Because Cargill is already such a huge multinational, it’s likely that the new partnership will succeed. I am still slightly hesitant by NatureWorks at first glance. Carrying the name NatureWorks and proudly proclaiming the production of biodegradable materials, the company boasts the first “commercially available biopolymers derived from 100 percent annually renewable resources with cost and performance that compete with petroleum-based packaging materials and fibers.” This, of course, is an admirable practice on the part of NatureWorks.
At the same time, the company also recently received a $150 million investment from PTT Global Chemical, a Thai state-controlled company that produces petroleum. PTT Global Chemical was responsible for the spillage of 50,000 liters (13,200 gallons) of crude oil earlier this year, due to a failure to prepare for such incidents, despite experiencing them in the past. According to Wikipedia, NatureWorks’ other owner, Cargill, “has been subject to numerous criticisms over a number of topics including environmental issues, contamination and human rights abuses. Cargill is a major contributor to global warming and biodiversity loss. Further, as a private company, Cargill is not required to release the same amount of information as a publicly traded company and, as a business practice, keeps a relatively low profile.” The selling of non-petroleum materials, for NatureWorks, will benefit its owners, providing them with further capital to invest in fossil fuels.
Though there may be no direct correlation between their owners and NatureWorks’ own ethical practices, I worry that, if they’re not upfront about who their owners are, NatureWorks may not always be upfront about their plastics. Moreover, I’d hate to see a reliable plastics supplier be attached to the gross misdeeds of its parent corporations.