Scientists invent smart 3D printer to advance plastic circular economy

12 April 2024 14:09

Innovation

Cambridge/Agia Paraskevi - Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Greek Center for Scientific Research have created software that promises to make 3D printing with reused and recycled plastic easier, potentially eliminating the need for plastic made from virgin materials.

Three-dimensional printing has created myriad opportunities for manufacturers and hobbyists to create new products easily. But 3D printers must use specific types of plastic to function, or their operators must spend significant time manually adjusting their machines to print with new materials.

Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Center for Scientific Research in Greece have created software that helps 3D printers automatically identify and use unknown materials.

The discovery published in the journal “Integrating Materials and Manufacturing Innovation” holds great promise because it could allow 3D printers to use whatever recycled or reused plastic is available, creating a circular economy that will decrease the extraction of virgin materials and cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change

“In this paper, we demonstrate a method that can take all these interesting materials that are bio-based and made from various sustainable sources and show that the printer can figure out by itself how to print those materials,” said Neil Gershenfeld, who leads MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms in an April 8 news release. “The goal is to make 3D printing more sustainable.”

Today, 3D printers contain as many as 100 parameters that control how printers extrude plastic. “Commonly used materials, like mass-manufactured polymers, have established sets of parameters that were perfected through tedious, trial-and-error processes,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers discovered how to teach 3D printers to identify half of the unknown materials that require tedious fine-tuning, dramatically saving time for 3D printer operations. ce/jd

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