Materialise Unveils Potential Breakthrough in Eliminating Waste in 3-D Printing

Materialise, a Belgium-based company with an operation in Plymouth Township, has developed a selective laser sintering-based method that makes it possible to 3-D print with up to 100 percent re-used powder.
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3-D printed device
Materialise has developed a laser sintering-based 3-D printing method that makes it possible to 3-D print with up to 100 percent re-used powder. // Photo courtesy of Materialise

Materialise, a Belgium-based company with an operation in Plymouth Township, has developed a selective laser sintering-based method that makes it possible to 3-D print with up to 100 percent re-used powder.

With the Bluesint PA12 process, powder that would normally be wasted can be given a second life to make new parts. Parts printed with Bluesint PA12 have similar mechanical properties, allowing users to make a choice not only based on technical specifications but also on the environmental impact.

“Many people view 3-D printing as a positive force that helps companies to operate more sustainably, “says Fried Vancraen, CEO of Materialise. “However, that’s simply not enough. As we enter the fourth decade of 3-D printing, the question is not whether 3-D printing is a sustainable manufacturing technology. The question becomes: what can we do to make 3-D printing more sustainable?”

With Laser sintering, the second most commonly used 3-D printing technology, up to 50 percent of the powder reportedly becomes waste. The potential to recycle used powder is limited and 3-D printing with only used powder creates surface problems that make the final object unsuitable for most applications.

“With Bluesint PA12 we are able to significantly reduce powder waste,” says Jurgen Laudus, vice president and general manager of Materialise Manufacturing. “Bluesint PA12 represents a major step toward making 3-D printing more sustainable and is an example of how we empower our customers to make a choice for sustainability.”

The search for a more sustainable 3-D printing process started seven years ago in the Materialise research lab in Leuven, Belgium. The problem with laser sintering is that 3-D printing with only used powder creates a surface texture problem called the “orange peel” effect, which makes the printed object largely unusable.

The orange peel effect is caused by shrinking that occurs when the powder cools down between two consecutive sintering processes. The existing solution is to mix used powder with fresh powder, which is not sustainable, according to Materialise.

By using a 3-D printer with multiple lasers, Materialise engineers were able to use one laser for sintering the powder and a second laser to keep the powder above a certain temperature threshold. By preventing the powder from cooling down between two layers, they prevented the shrinking process that causes the orange peel effect. The result is a printed object with similar mechanical and visual properties but printed with 100 percent recycled powder, reducing waste.

Over the course of 2021, Materialise plans to have several laser sintering machines running Bluesint PA12. In the start-up phase alone, the company aims to re-use more than five tons of powder that would normally become waste.

Materialise has created a beta program for Bluesint PA12 service and invites selected customers with diverse applications and a focus on sustainability to participate in the market validation process for the new technology. For more information on that program, visit here.

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