Nov 13, 2017 | By David

One of the key ways that 3D printing technology is helping to change the way manufacturing operates is its expansion of the range of materials that can be used. This is particularly helpful in creating more eco-friendly products, from bio-based or other sustainable materials. A great example of this was recently seen in Germany, where a company called Amtopus has been making groundbreaking containers and other packaging solutions from compostable raw materials such as fruits. Amtopus was awarded a major environmental prize for its work.

The packaging of consumer items is contributing greatly to the environmental impact of manufacturing, as it tends to be immediately disposed of after purchase and is often made from non-biodegradable materials such as plastics, which fill up what were previously natural spaces as well as often releasing harmful chemicals into the eco-system. This is particularly bad when it comes to fragile items, which need an extra amount of packaging to protect them from damage. All that Styrofoam and tape might seem like a miracle when it helps your new smartphone to arrive at your mailbox unharmed, but it will probably end up polluting waters and forests for many years to come.

Founded  in the city of Chemnitz last summer, Amtopus has a mission to tackle these problems and has pioneered the use of organic, raw bio-degradable materials as packaging. One item that it has made use of is the hard shell of an apricot kernel. Unlike the rest of the apricot, this part cannot be used and is usually thrown away by fruit processing plants. Amtopus picks up these waste cores for a very cheap price, and then processes the material into something that can be 3D printed, to form effective packaging for all kinds of items.

Other materials like wood flour and reeds have also been used in its innovative 3D printing process, which won the company a Saxon Environmental Prize in the "Environmentally friendly technologies and production processes" category. Amtopus also wants to make sure that the materials used are locally sourced so that, even as they degrade biologically after they are disposed of, they do not disrupt the natural eco-system in any way.

Company founder Henning Zeidler is a scientist as well as an entrepreneur, and he works as a professor for additive manufacturing at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. He is still working on the optimization of Amtopus’ 3D printing process, trying to minimize waste as much as possible as well as speeding it up considerably. A container the size of a shoe box currently takes around three hours to print. He is also hoping to develop a digital service and mobile app, which will allow a particular item’s dimensions to be measured in order to print out the customized packaging on demand, with a specific price quoted for the customer depending on the item’s size and shape.

Photo: Andreas Seidel

This 3D printing process, making use of bio-degradable materials, could also be used for other single-use disposable items besides packaging. This would hopefully contribute even further to the protection of the environment and limiting the harm caused. Major one-off public or cultural events can be particularly wasteful, and this could be a future area of growth for Amtopus’ business. "I could imagine creating stage sets or furniture made of these renewable raw materials’’,  Zeidler said.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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