New 3D printing materials are being developed regularly, and they’re not being made solely from plastic or metal. Scientists are creating materials from all sorts of natural substances, from algae to coffee grounds, and a recent material being heavily studied for 3D printing is cellulose. Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on Earth, which makes it a great resource for 3D printing. It’s an important structural component of the primary cell walls of plants, and it’s secreted by certain kinds of bacteria. It’s in wood, paper, cotton and cellophane, and makes up a good portion of the fiber humans eat.
As cellulose is a natural polymer, it makes sense to pursue it as a 3D printing material, which many scientists are doing, looking to replace plastics with a more sustainable, environmentally friendly substance. It’s even being researched as a possible material for 3D printing food. Made up of anywhere from several hundred to several thousand glucose units in a crystalline structure, cellulose can be easily found in the natural world.
It’s becoming more easily found in the 3D printing world, too. UPM Biocomposites, a division of biomaterials company UPM, is launching UPM Formi 3D, a new biocomposite 3D printing material made from cellulose fiber. Using biopolymer technologies, the material was developed in pellet form, which can in turn be used to develop filament for 3D printing. It has a matte finish and a surface that feels natural to the touch, and can be produced in both light and dark colors.
UPM Formi 3D has been engineered to flow smoothly through small nozzles, allowing for prints with fine detail. Its fast cooling and low shrinkage ensure improved dimensional stability as well, which also makes it a good material for large format 3D printing. It doesn’t require supports, even for complex or round objects, as its molten state is self-supporting – cellulose is a rigid material, after all, making up the firm structure of plants. It can be post-processed like wood, with fine sanding, reduced paint absorption and easy gluing with PVAC.
UPM Biocomposites has factories located in Finland and Germany and is one of Europe’s biggest manufacturers of natural fiber composites. Its UPM ProFi materials are recycled and recyclable, in keeping with the company’s sustainable priorities. One of UPM’s goals is to replace non-renewable petroleum-based materials with natural, renewable materials such as cellulose, which it claims offers superior performance to traditional wood plastic composites.
Natural 3D printing materials are becoming more popular as people seek to create with substances that not only are better for the environment, but healthier for the people printing with them as well. UPM Formi 3D, which combines cellulose with PLA, is safe and offers characteristics superior to conventional 3D printing filament, such as better adhesion. The material is produced and sold in granule form, allowing for 3D printing with large-scale pellet systems or for 3D printing materials producers to make filament. You can find out where to buy UPM Formi 3D here.
UPM Formi will be presented at the NORDIC 3D EXPO, taking place in Espoo, Finland on April 18th and 19th. Material samples will be presented, as well as 3D printing demonstrations.
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