Material Advances: Reusable Feedstocks

Materials are also on the threshold of a number of likely advances. The promise of fully recyclable materials could be the most revolutionary innovation on the horizon in this area. From a technical standpoint, this could be relatively low-hanging fruit, tracking other materials recycling efforts. However, the payoff in terms of both 3D printing popularization and the impact on overall consumption patterns could be tremendous.

The Recyclebot allows users to use shredded milk bottles as feedstock (source: society of plastics engineers)

3D printing is often criticized for its tendency to encourage wastefulness. So it is exciting to imagine the possibilities of individual consumers simply reusing the same half-pound or so of homogeneous hard polymer printing material again and again, rather than cycling through hundreds of disposable plastic products over the course of a lifetime.

We are still a ways away from this goal, but there are signals that we are headed toward at least some applications that use materials more responsibly. For example, a hack to the MakerBot home printing system allows users to make their own feedstock from used milk bottles.

Next: Platforms and Business Models for Reusable Feedstocks

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