Researchers use lightweight plastic for self-repair in 3D printing


In recent years, advancements in our daily technological capabilities have allowed 3D printing to permeate various industries ranging from healthcare to manufacturing. Some of the more well-known 3D printing designs are in precision medicine, where unique limb models are generated in 3D using patient data. These models facilitate therapeutic treatment and help reduce costs. In addition to this, 3D bioprinting is also used to create synthetic blood vessels that could pave the way for organ transplantation. Due to the creativity inherent in 3D printing, its uses can also be very diverse, from using leftover food for printing gourmet creations to making prototypes of human settlements on the Moon. As our society continues to advance technologically, the use and consumption of 3D will continue to increase. The global 3D printing market is estimated to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% from 2021 to 2028, reaching a market size of $ 62.79 billion.

A material commonly used in 3D printing is plastic. The reason is that it is readily available, cost effective, and enables rapid prototyping. However, plastics pose an environmental problem and have various properties which, depending on the material, can make the plastic 3D design susceptible to breakage. Since in 3D printing the design is printed as a whole, if it breaks into one part, then it can be rendered unusable, since a new one should be printed in its place. Of course, the 3D printed design should be fixed, but if the design cannot be fixed and needs to be thrown out, it affects the already existing problem of plastic waste. In order to solve this problem, a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney developed an ingenious method of using light and a reagent to allow plastic to ” to heal ”. This study was recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, where researchers demonstrated that lighting an LED light on a problem area causes a chemical reaction that fuses the two broken pieces together. The method involves using a reagent, which is then activated by light, causing a reaction in which the particles reorganize under the presence of light, allowing the broken pieces to fuse again. The whole process takes about 1 hour and the researchers associated the new plastic as “scarred”, resulting in a more resistant plastic than the previous one. The simplicity, ease and speed of the process is an advantage over existing processes, which take up to 24 hours and are more complex. The researchers believe that such an approach would be particularly useful in areas where 3D printing is used with specialized high-tech components, such as electronics and sensors. Of course, having a method that allows plastic repair is also a welcome sign in high volume productions where the environmental impact of broken and discarded plastic can add up, thus increasing plastic waste. Thus, this approach offers a promising step towards both a viable production method and the reduction of plastic waste.