3D printing is a great, typically more cost-effective, way of getting your designs and products into real-life. It can be used for any number of different things, and personal-use 3D printers are becoming more popular and accessible right before our eyes. We all know about the usual 3D printing materials like plastic, of which there are a handful of types (PVA, PLA, polycarbonate, etc). But there are some materials you'd never guess could be used for 3D printing!
1. Paper - or more specifically, paper pulp. Using paper pulp and a binding agent, the 3D printer works pretty much the same way you're used to. There are still a few bumps in the road when it comes to using paper pulp as a 3D printing material. For example, it can clog the printing lines. It also doesn't give the same smooth or close to smooth finish as plastic. It gives a unique texture aesthetic. It is also leaps and bounds ahead of plastic in terms of sustainability. 3D Natives posted a really good blog on paper pulp 3D printing, you should definitely check it out if you want to learn more!
2. Metal - Metal is actually a pretty popular material to 3D print with, but it's still mind boggling that you can use it to 3D print! A variety of types of metal can be used to 3D print, including stainless steel, copper, and titanium. You have to use powdered metal, which is then heated to the right consistency and printed. Powdered metal is just as expensive as it sounds, so 3D printing with this material tends to be much pricier than plastic! However, the prints are certainly sturdier.
3. Nitinol - Nitinol is a mixture of titanium and nickel, so it would technically fall under the "metal" category, but this mixture is something special! Nitinol is popular in the medical implants world because of its flexibility. It can essentially be bent in half and not break, and still be able to return to its original shape. Reading this immediately gave me the metal image of someone with bones made of nitinol. Admittedly, this is a little bit gross, but their "bones" would never break! 3D printed nitinol arterial stents are being tested and used successfully in hospitals.
Nitinol presents its own set of challenges, primarily that the powder needed to use it in 3D printing is incredibly hard to source. It also has limited shape capabilities in some medical settings since it has to be geometric in order to accurately print. The nickel allows the nitinol to be flexible when it's at body temperature, but that also means it's sensitive to extreme heat. The laser on the printer has to be a very specific temperature, otherwise the parts are compromised. This can cause the stent to be too rigid for use. I'll never be able to do this topic justice, so check out this blog by Additive Manufacturing for more information on nitinol!
4. All of the above, and then some - I was trying to narrow down my last pick for the coolest material and I found this blog from 3D Natives that blew my mind! Coffee, conductive, fluorescent, and more. The possibilities are endless, and this is just the beginning. 3D printing can be sustainable, and easily accessible. We foresee it becoming even more popular in the coming years!
What do you think would work as a 3D printing filament?