BREAKTHROUGH IN ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING: CELLULOSE GRANULATES AS RAW MATERIAL

The BRINTER® 3D printing method of 3DTech has been selected as the main additive manufacturing inline platform for the NOVUM project. In a major step forward in the field of additive manufacturing, BRINTER has demonstrated that it can successfully print constructs from cellulose granulates, a revolutionary development even within the 3D printing industry. The cellulose content of the material in question is also considerably higher than that of current commercial materials. Another welcome attribute of the new method’s potential is BRINTER’s ability to scale up smoothly from a desktop unit to industrial-level production.

Growing environmental concerns have propelled the search for more environmentally friendly print materials to replace oil-based synthetic polymers in 3D printing. To this end, the NOVUM project tested several 3D printing technologies that had the potential to produce electrical insulation components in a more resource-efficient manner. The performance of several additive manufacturing methods was judged in terms of industrial-scale feasibility, economic and environmental impact, and circular economy considerations.

Circular economies strive to use materials sparingly and cut down on waste. One of the wonders of the 3D printing process is that there is very little loss of material, as any waste from the manufacturing process can be recycled back into production. In addition, at the end of a product’s life cycle, the components can be simply reused as raw material. This merit is further enhanced by 3D printing’s unique capability to manufacture on demand, to exact customer specifications. NOVUM project partners have studied the number of times materials can be reused without a loss of product quality, as well as the amount of virgin material that may be required for reinforcement.

The innovative use of 3D printing in industries such as insulator manufacturing can increase the sustainability, productivity and market competitiveness of the field, while at the same time reducing production time, energy consumption and operational costs. This potential has also been recognized in other sectors, and the scope of NOVUM was recently widened to include application areas in the maritime and automotive industries, after two major companies expressed interest in joining the project.

In the early stages of the NOVUM project, 3DTech/BRINTER concentrated on building a novel 3D printing platform capable of combining several different 3D printing processes and material formulations. The goal was to develop cellulose-based materials that could be used in the manufacture of electrical insulators, and at the same time promote the use of this renewable and abundant bio-based raw material for the manufacture of complex components in future applications in other industries. Expanded interest in the project proves that there is a demand for this kind of innovation.

BRINTER’s new 3D printing platform will enable rapid R&D solutions and easy upgrades to mass production, as its integration into the NOVUM pilot line concept proves. The platform’s multi-material printing capabilities enable the printing of not only cellulose-based granulates, but also pastes and other materials from liquids to solids as a single construct.

As the project evolves, successful pilot techniques can be reproduced at an industrial manufacturing scale and significantly increase the sustainable production possibilities the new technology holds for a wide range of industrial applications.

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