"As 3D printed objects are created by adding material layer by layer, only the needed amount of material is used. This results in a lower material waste rate compared to traditional manufacturing where spill-over often cannot be avoided to achieve the desired end result."
We recently sat down with Francois Minec, the Managing Director of BASF Forward AM, to talk about the recent case study HILOS worked on with Yale's Center for Business and the Environment. The first environmental assessment of 3D printed shoes, the study examined the true impact of our technology as well as its implications for the future of footwear.
What is your vision for the future of how we make things? What role does Forward AM play in that future?
FRANCOIS MINEC: We are convinced that Additive Manufacturing is the key to new opportunities for manufacturing, impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods. By allowing mass personalization, offering complete design freedom and reducing assembly steps, Additive Manufacturing enables local and on demand production and avoids waste of unsold parts.
At BASF 3D Printing Solutions, we enable customers to shape the AM industrial revolution by offering the world’s largest selection of 3D printing materials and service solutions under the brand Forward AM. Our customers benefit from a cross-technology portfolio of AM powders, filaments and photopolymers suitable for any kind of applications. On top of that, we also provide 3D printing solutions along the entire value chain – from application-specific consultancy and design, simulation and virtual engineering services, to post-processing and component testing.
There’s so much focus on sourcing more sustainable materials across most legacy supply chains. As a material supplier, how do you think of environmental sustainability? What are your environmental priorities?
FM: Switching from traditional manufacturing to Additive Manufacturing can change a company’s environmental impact in many ways. As 3D printed objects are created by adding material layer by layer, only the needed amount of material is used. This results in a lower material waste rate compared to traditional manufacturing where spill-over often cannot be avoided to achieve the desired end result. Another positive impact is the option to have a digital inventory instead of a physical. As parts can be easily printed on demand and on-site, there is no need for physical warehouses – a digital file with the 3D models does the job. This enables manufacturers to save on warehousing costs and to avoid the waste of parts which maybe never get used and be thrown away.
For manufacturers, this means to rethink all aspects of their business: technologies, products but also materials. At Forward AM, we offer recycled or biobased materials, especially for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and Powder Bed Fusion (PBF). Our portfolio currently carries sustainable materials with Ultrafuse® PLA (biobased) and Ultrafuse® rPET (based on recycled material). Our polymer powders Ultrasint® TPU 01, Ultrasint® PA11 and Ultrasint® PP nat 01 are all recyclable. Moreover, our Ultrasint® TPU01 has a high recycling rate which allows to minimize product loss during the production.
In addition, we’re continuously working on assessing the environmental impact of all our materials which we will make available for most of our commercialized materials by the end of the year. This way, we are supporting our customers in choosing the best material and production method for their application while taking into account environmental aspects.
Why does a partnership with HILOS make sense for BASF?
FM: The consumer goods industry and especially footwear is an important industry sector for Forward AM, one where we believe Additive Manufacturing can have an immediate impact. It enables local production, customization, fast time to market as well as enhanced comfort or performance thanks to 3D printed lattices. As material developers for our industry, we recognize that we are the farthest upstream in this digital supply chain, one whose developments impact downstream product capabilities and environmental impact. That’s one reason why it’s so important for us to partner with end-use application developers like HILOS. Another reason is that we want to further develop sustainable materials for Additive Manufacturing. While HILOS is already using our recyclable Ultrasint® TPU01, we get the chance to learn more about the industries’ requirements for materials and get a better understanding of how the industry works.
What impact has your work together had?
FM: When we first got in contact with HILOS, we were impressed by their collaborative approach and the speed at which they were forging partnerships not just in Additive Manufacturing but in the footwear industry. Being their partner allows us to quickly learn how our materials and coatings can best be adapted for the footwear industry while driving a collaborative model of application development for this important industry. The collaboration made us aware once again, that Additive Manufacturing could be key to improve sustainability in further industries that are producing a lot of waste while manufacturing.
"[Collaborating with HILOS] made us aware once again, that Additive Manufacturing could be key to improve sustainability in further industries that are producing a lot of waste while manufacturing."
Have any of the findings changed your perspective or inspired a new direction?
FM: The findings of this study confirm that we are already going into the right direction. We will continue to develop sustainable materials and further improve our manufacturing technologies to keep the impact on the environment even lower. Our goal is to make Additive Manufacturing a sustainable alternative to traditional manufacturing technologies across different industries.
What’s next for the partnership?
FM: Over the past year we have been working closely together with HILOS to drive production scaling. Further improvements to the printing and finishing process can bring new possibilities to help this reach industrial scale, not least enhanced product appeal. We are looking forward to continuously working together with HILOS this year to expand into new coloring and coatings options and further expand the range of colors and finishes that HILOS can deliver in market, while at the same time supporting HILOS in their growth.