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New research hints at future of 3D printing plastic

3Dprint.com recently reported on current research at Texas A&M University, Essentium Materials and Texas Tech into strengthening plastic parts printed with FDM technology. This involves printing with special CNT-coated filaments, then welding the resulting parts using precisely applied microwave irradiation. The result is stronger parts that are suitable for a range of industrial applications — effectively mitigating one of the key disadvantages of FDM printing.

At the same time, Michigan Technology University is conducting research into a more energy-efficient recycling material waste from plastic 3D printing. The goal is to allow leftover plastic to be recycled onsite and converted into printing filament. This process utilises a solar-powered ‘recyclebot’, resulting in a far more energy-efficient process than familiar recycling techniques, and opening up the option of recycling plastic waste on-site. This will reduce both energy costs and material waste — something any large-scale AM operation would benefit from.

Both these projects are great examples of how academic research into technology and materials is supporting additive manufacturing’s move from prototyping to production. As manufacturers continue to explore AM’s potential applications, more roadblocks will reveal themselves, at which point researchers and academics will step in to establish how these could be overcome. With both aspects of the AM industry supporting each other in this way, we are sure to see new technology and materials applied in a way that supports manufacturing workflows and delivers exceptional results.