The military researchers presented their work this week at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
“Ideally, soldiers wouldn’t have to wait for the next supply truck to receive vital equipment,” said Nicole Zander, PhD. “Instead, they could basically go into the cafeteria, gather discarded water bottles, milk jugs, cardboard boxes and other recyclable items, then use those materials as feedstocks for 3D printers to make tools, parts and other gadgets.”
According to the US Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense has an inventory of 5 million items distributed through eight supply chains in order to keep military personnel supplied with food, fuel, ammunition and spare parts. Few of these items are stockpiled at front-line locations, however, meaning that shortages can occur at critical times. Many of these front-line locations do have 3D printers, but they often have to wait an extended period of time for feedstock to be replenished.Zander, along with Marine Corps Captain Anthony Molnar and colleagues at the US Army Research Laboratory, has been investigating recycling PET plastic, which is commonly found in water and soda bottles. They determined that filament produced from recycled PET was just as strong as commercially available 3D printer filament. The team used the recycled PET filament to 3D print a vehicle radio bracket, which normally has a long lead time. The process required about 10 water bottles and took about two hours to 3D print.
Originally, the researchers found that other types of plastic, like polypropylene (PP), which is found in yogurt and cottage cheese containers, and polystyrene (PS), used in plastic utensils, were not practical for 3D printing, but some tinkering made them more useful. They strengthened the PP by mixing it with cardboard, wood fibers and other cellulose waste materials, and they also blended PS with PP to make a strong and flexible filament.
The team used a process called solid-state shear pulverization to create composite PP/cellulose materials. Shredded plastic and paper, cardboard or wood flour was pulverized in a twin-screw extruder to generate a fine powder, which was then melted and processed into filament. The researchers tested the new composites and discovered that they had improved mechanical properties that could be used to 3D print strong objects.
Zander and her team are building a mobile recycling center that will allow trained soldiers to make 3D printing filaments out of plastic waste. They are also looking into ways to 3D print from plastic pellets instead of filament, which could allow for the printing of larger objects.
“We still have a lot to learn about how to best process these materials and what kinds of additives will improve their properties,” Zander said. “We’re just scratching the surface of what we can ultimately do with these discarded plastics.”
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.
You May Also Like
Army Research Groups Explore 3D Printing for Soldiers In the Field
The United States Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey serves as the main R&D group for the U.S. Army armament and munitions...
US Air Force Awards nScrypt Research Company Contract for 3D Printed Conformal Phased Array Antenna Project
Florida-based nScrypt, which manufactures industrial systems for micro-dispensing and 3D printing, is already seeing its technology used for military applications with the US Army. But now the US Air Force has jumped...
Air Force: C-5 Super Galaxy Plane Receives Seventeen 3D Printed Parts to Cabin & Crew Areas
The C-5 Program Office, Air Mobility Command, and the 436th Airlift Wing from Dover Air Force Base have completed installation of 3D printed parts on a C-5 Super Galaxy plane...
Missouri Students Create 3D Printed Switch Covers for $2.2 Billion Aircraft
While you may not need a degree in aerospace to come up with a great idea for fabricating a spare part for a military plane, accessibility to a 3D printer...
View our broad assortment of in house and third party products.