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3D printing bioplastics


Lots of new innovative materials and manufacturing techniques are developed regularly, helping businesses to improve their performance and even to implement more sustainability into their processes. It is also the case in the additive manufacturing industry. In addition to high performance, some materials are also presenting a more sustainable aspect. 

Let’s focus on bioplastics materials and their growing role in the 3D printing industry. We will see what are bioplastics or biopolymers, how they can be used in 3D printing, and also give you some examples of their applications. These materials can present some really interesting mechanical properties and participate in the development of a more sustainable additive manufacturing industry

What are bioplastics?

Bioplastics are plastics produced from renewable biomass sources such as corn starch, vegetable oils and fats, or straw, for example. There are plenty of bioplastics materials, such as starch-based plastics, cellulose-based plastics, protein-based plastics, aliphatic polyesters (Polyactic acid or PLA), Polyamide 11, or bio-derived polyethylene.

These bioplastics can replace many applications for petroleum-derived plastics and you easily start to implement them inside your manufacturing processes.

Implementing bioplastics in your manufacturing process

Why should we start using more bioplastics? 

Facing the depletion of fossil fuel resources, companies have to find new solutions and start making changes in its business approach. The chemical industry is not an exception! This industry is turning to bioplastics with plant-based raw materials. What is the advantage of this solution? The plants are renewable, and growing plants means capturing the CO2 present in the air. This participates in reducing the greenhouse effect. Lots of products can also benefit from the use of these polymers of plant origin, from shoes to automobile parts and packaging.

Applications of bioplastics

Bioplastics are mainly used for disposable objects. For example, for the creation of packaging, traditional plastics are starting to be replaced by bioplastics:  the demand for bioplastic packaging is huge it is the largest segment of the European bioplastic market – estimated at around 44% of 2.05 million tonnes in 2017 (source: https://www.european-bioplastics.org/market/applications-sectors/). 

The electronic sector is also starting to address the sustainability of the materials used for their products. As you may know, a majority of consumer electrical appliances are made of plastics. From electronic casings to circuit boards and data storage, all these devices are made of plastic.

The interesting performance of traditional plastic can be reached with bioplastic, encouraging sectors such as the automotive industry to use more of them! We can notice that car manufacturers now use more biobased or partly biobased durable bioplastics for the production of sturdy dashboard components as well as solid features for both the interior and exterior of cars.

3D printing and sustainability

Combining all advantages

We all know it, sustainability should be at the center of every business strategy. The 3D printing industry started to implement this idea in the development of its technologies and materials, with reusable powders and bio-based materials. 

  • Design efficient

Additive manufacturing allows for more design efficiency. Creating optimized parts lead to a reduction of the amount of material, for example, hollowing or lattice structures make lighter parts with less material. This has several benefits as you get optimized parts in terms of weight and resistance, and you can reduce the cost.

  • Reduction of waste 

Unlike subtractive manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing results in less material waste. The manufacturing process itself creates less waste as it only uses the amount of material needed to manufacture the object, layer by layer. 

  • Powder reusability

The reusability of the powder is becoming one of the goals of material and 3D printer manufacturers. We can also see it with the example of  Nylon PA11, a biocompatible and plant-based material made from castor oil, also offers a high reusability rate within 3D printing systems with up to 70% reusability, resulting in less waste.

Bio-based 3D printing materials

We can observe the development of high-performance 3D printing materials, offering the mechanical properties of traditional manufacturing.

Some bio-based materials such as PLA were already well-known and used with FDM technology. Made from corn starch, this material is also more sustainable in its production. However, if these kinds of materials are interesting to create prototypes, accessing high-performance bio-based materials could totally transform your manufacturing process. The example we will follow in this article is Polyamide 11. A number of different materials can be created from this powder, offering interesting mechanical properties and characteristics for sectors such as automotive, medical, or electronics.

Focus on Nylon PA 11: A solution for more sustainability

What is Nylon PA11?

PA11 is based on 100% renewable biomass sources. Created from renewable castor oil, Nylon 11 or Polyamide 11 (PA 11), is a bioplastic. This polyamide is part of the nylon family of polymers created by the polymerization of 11-aminoundecanoic acid, an organic compound. The Castor seed is extracted from the castor plant to make oil. The oil is then converted into the monomer (11-aminoundecanoic acid), which is finally polymerized into Polyamide 11. This material is applied in the sectors of aerospace, automotive, electronics, sports equipment, etc. Castor beans are grown in arid landscapes, particularly difficult to cultivate, so the crop does not compete with the human or animal food chain. 

PA 11 belongs to the technical polymers family, the fact that this material is a bioplastic doesn’t mean that it is biodegradable. The properties of Nylon PA 11 are similar to PA 12. The main difference is the emission of greenhouse gases and the consumption of nonrenewable resources produced during its production. This PA 11 is well-known to be used in high-performance applications in sectors such as automotive or electronics. The thermal resistance of this material is superior to PA 12.

Using Sculpteo’s online 3D printing service it is now possible to access bio-based material to manufacture your next projects!

Wide range of possibilities while using PA 11 for additive manufacturing

Sculpteo added bio-based materials to its catalog to help your reach a more sustainable manufacturing process. These plastic parts are printed using Selective Laser Sintering or MJF.

  • PA11 ESD

Ultrasint® PA11 ESD is a bio-derived powder material with electrostatic discharging properties for increased process safety in advanced applications. With its interesting mechanical properties, this material offers new possibilities for a wide range of new applications, especially for the electronics sector. 

  • PA11 CF

Ultrasint® PA11 CF is a carbon-filled, bio-derived, powder material for advanced Powder Bed Fusion applications. This material is one of the strongest materials in the 3D printing industry, combining high ductility and impact performance as well as really high rigidity. 

  • PA11 SLS & PA11 MJF

Ultrasint® PA11 is a bio-derived powder with exceptionally high toughness. This material has the particularity of offering high ductility and impact strength for all applications. Do you need durable parts able to withstand high mechanical loads and stress? Ultrasint® PA11 is an option to consider.

Do you have a 3D printing project? Partner with Sculpteo

Are you interested in the special characteristics of these bio-based materials? It might be time to implement these materials into your process. Optimized products and manufacturing flexibility are just a few clicks away: upload your 3D file on our online 3D printing service or contact our sales team to talk more specifically about your projects.

If you are not using additive manufacturing yet and want to give this technology a try, contact Sculpteo Studio to identify your additive manufacturing opportunities and choose the best technology and material for your project. 

If you wish to learn more about the Basics of 3D Printing, keep exploring inside our Learning Hub.

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