Materialise NV, Leuven, Belgium, has announced that its Bluesint PA12 material along with a new process technique allows for 3D printing with up to 100 percent reused powder. The company specializes in industrial and medical markets and has been beta testing the Bluesint material before it plans to offer the material commercially. 3D printing is already considered a more sustainable manufacturing method, but new lifecycle analysis conducted by BASF and Materialise contradicts that notion after they studied the production of 1 million pairs of midsoles for shoes using three 3D printing technologies versus conventional polyurethane casting. The lifecycle analysis revealed that 3D printing isn’t currently the most sustainable choice and has a bigger impact on climate change and the depletion of fossil fuels compared with conventional manufacturing technology.
The problem that Materialise identified with 3D printing is that with laser sintering up to 50 percent of the powder becomes waste. The potential for recycling used powder is also limited because 3D printing with only used powder creates surface problems that make the 3D printed object unsuitable for most applications. To solve these problems, the company came up with a 3D printer with multiple lasers. The reused powder doesn’t have surface problems if one laser does the sintering and another prevents the powder from cooling down between two layers to prevent shrinking issues that can occur with a more traditional process. The result is a printed object with similar mechanical and visual properties to an object printed with new powder but using all recycled powder to reduce waste and improve sustainability.