3D printing has long been difficult to access because of the high costs associated with it, but that’s all changing as the 3D printing market continues to storm ahead with plenty of growth.
If you’re wondering how 3D printing works, the process involves a 3D object being designed using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software application or programme before being physically printed.
But the question is, for what reasons might you need a 3D printer?
Surgical 3D printing was first used in the mid-1990s so that surgeons could practise on tactile models before performing complex operations like reconstructive work.
Since then, the technology has come on leaps and bounds. In October 2014, the first prosthetic hand was made with 3D printing technology for a five-year-old girl who had been born without fully formed fingers on her hand.
3D printing has also been used in the manufacturing of pills, with this first happening in May 2015. It has paved the way for a future in which patients with numerous medical conditions no longer have to take lots of different tablets.
There are many forms in which 3D printing has been especially prominent in industrial work. When you look at the scope of 3D printing, you realise just how much opportunity there is.
Fashion designers have used it for clothes and accessories while it’s also been used to make jewellery moulds and the jewellery itself.
It’s huge in the construction and firearms industry too, as well as totally revolutionising the automotive industry.
Interestingly, it’s also been used in space operations. The Zero-G printer was the first 3D printer made to work in zero gravity.
Finally, there’s the fun side of 3D printing. It’s related to a lot of cultural and social activities we like, such as the possibility of taking 3D selfies.
You also now have the chance to 3D print things for your home, for example, a working clock. Many museums have also bought 3D printers now for the preservation of certain items and artefacts.
Eco-friendly alternatives to expensive resins
Resins that are used in the 3D printing process are usually expensive, So, it’s good news to hear about a new, eco-friendly way of reusing cooking oil that could significantly make these resins far less expensive.
The McDonald’s fast-food chain has worked with researchers from the University of Toronto, Scarborough to use their waste oil in an innovative way.
The brainchild of Professor Andre Simpson
The basis of the idea is the brainchild of Professor Andre Simpson, who is the director of the University’s Environmental NMR centre. Some years ago, the professor got hold of a 3D printer which he wanted to use to make custom components for keeping organisms alive in the university’s nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.
The problem that Simpson found was that the resin needed for that specific type of high printing was expensive. With funding at a premium, it forced the professor’s attention towards considering other possibilities.
Experimenting with processing McDonald’s waste oil
He decided to investigate cooking oil and obtained waste oil from McDonald’s to experiment with and discovered that it held promise for potential use as a 3D printing filament.
By chemically treating one litre of the waste oil, he produced 420 millilitres of resin which he used to 3D print a butterfly. The resulting plastic butterfly was found to be structurally and thermally stable.
Even more exciting was the fact that the cost of producing this new type of 3D printing resin was $300 per tonne. The type of high-resolution resin he was previously using was costing the university in excess of $525 per litre. The waste oil product was significantly cheaper.
Of course, it isn’t just the relative cheapness of the new 3D printing resin solution that is attractive. It also poses a great alternative method of recycling waste oil that is much more environmentally friendly.
Another independent study into producing 3D printing filament
Another independent research project into producing 3D printing filament is the vision of Professor Mogens Hinge of the Aarhus University in Denmark. He is focussing on using recycled plastic waste to produce a filament that offers a consistent, high-level quality 3D printing filament at a significantly lower price.
Good news for the future of 3D printing
Whether it is the processing of McDonald’s waste oil, or recycling plastic waste, it looks as though the future of 3D printing could be set to become more commercially viable in the near future.