Materialise (Nasdaq: MTLS) has announced the adoption of bio-based Polyamide 11 (PA 11) for selective laser sintering (SLS). Derived from sustainably farmed castor beans, the material is already being used in a new eyewear collection from Belgian brand Odette Lunettes. Endorsed by and named after Belgian professional athlete Tom Boonen — formerly a bicycle racer, currently a race car driver — the collection is designed for individuals looking for a customizable product that can also withstand use in strenuous physical activity.
In a press release, the co-founder of Odette Lunettes, Eline de Munck, said, “3D printing is ideal to create a technical sports frame without compromising on the design we had in mind. On top of that…consumers can choose the color and the size of their frame.”
Alireza Parandian, Materialise’s Business Development Director, added, “With 3D printing, the waste-minimizing nature of the additive process already offers clear environmental and economic benefits. Using a material like PA11 has the potential to magnify these advantages.”
As with the apparel industry at large, excess supply is thought to be the greatest source of environmental waste in the eyewear sector. Similarly to what was found in a recent study into the sustainability advantages of using additive manufacturing (AM) to produce shoes, 20-30% of what’s made by eyewear suppliers goes unsold. Again like the fashion industry as a whole, proponents of a shift towards AM believe that on-demand production, which takes place close to the point of sale, can lead to a drastic — if not, eventually, total — decrease in overproduction.
Additionally, in the eyewear industry, in particular, using AM already leads to far greater efficiency in terms of minimizing direct material waste in the production process itself. Traditional, subtractive techniques waste up to 70% of the acetate devoted to producing the frames used in eyewear manufacture. AM eyewear, on the other hand, leads to none of the input material being wasted.
To sum up, as Parandian puts it, “With its speed, flexibility, and digital-first DNA, 3D printing provides radical competitive advantages for eyewear brands…By generating less waste and consuming minimum energy across the supply chain, 3D printing also offers greener credentials, something that increasingly influences today’s consumer choice.”
This is only the most recent new project in the AM industry announced this year that involves bio-based filaments. Already in 2022, aside from this one, we’ve seen wheat-based advertising stands for pasta, and squishy robots made from glucose. Obviously, it would be nice if the reason behind this were moral resistance against the detrimental environmental effects of increasing the carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere. Instead, the skyrocketing price of petroleum—the main ingredient in plastic and shows no sign of reversing course any time soon—may finally be making it worthwhile for companies to seriously explore filaments sourced from realms beyond the plastic kingdom.
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