Plastics Are Driving 3D Printing’s Growth

Plastics Are Driving 3D Printing’s Growth

With HP’s innovative Multi Jet Fusion(MJF) additive manufacturing technology, companies can take plastic use further, improving quality and performance

This article is the first in a three part series about the use and benefits of plastics with 3D printing.

The future is plastics!

Pardon the line from The Graduate, but it’s true. Since the movie was released in 1967, the use of plastics has skyrocketed, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In 2021 for example, global plastics production reached 460 million tonnes. The forecast for production in 2050 is double that number.

What’s driving the growth?

Plastics are common in nearly every industry and their use is growing rapidly. The consumer products industry has been a leader, benefiting from urbanization, population growth and a rise in disposable income. In addition to plastics in the products themselves, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies also make extensive use of polymers in packaging, particularly in the food and beverage categories. Plastic use is also growing in automotive, aerospace, medical and other industries, in part due to improved manufacturing technology, but also with the availability of more capable materials.

Why are consumer goods companies innovating with plastic?

Plastics are durable and versatile, helping products perform better and last longer than they would with other materials. Plastics are also lighter weight which generally improves the user experience and can reduce production and logistics costs. Plastics also enable new types of parts, components and assemblies that weren’t previously possible. Oftentimes plastics are less expensive, and in many cases they can actually help reduce waste.

How automotive companies are contributing to the growth of plastics

Plastics have driven much of the innovation in the automotive industry. In 1990 the average car used 100 kg (220 lbs) of plastic. Today’s vehicle’s use an average of 200 kg (440 lbs), accounting for up to 50% of the volume, while only contributing 10% of the weight. Lighter weight yields better performance and efficiency, but plastics also improve safety, enable sleeker design and lower cost, making them ideal for a low margin industry. 

Plastics are enabling new medical devices

The growing use of plastics in medical devices is delivering a number of benefits for patients and the health care providers. One of the biggest benefits is biocompatibility, as plastics can be engineered to be suitable for the human body, reducing the risk of an adverse reaction. When a foreign object is used in or around the body the immune system is triggered, which can lead to inflammation or infection. Biocompatible materials help minimize the response, enabling patients to heal more quickly and use corrective devices for longer durations.

Plastics offer many other advantages. Their durability makes plastics ideal for an industry where products routinely perform under demanding conditions. Plastics are also versatile and can be formed into a wide range of products. Their low cost helps make medical devices more affordable and more accessible. 

3D printing is also growing with plastics

Plastics play a vital role in the 3D printing industry and are propelling much of its growth. In 2021, the global market for additive plastics was around $970 million (USD). If it maintains its historically consistent, compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24% per year, the market will exceed $5 billion by 2030.

3D printed plastic parts

Why is the 3D printing plastics market expanding so quickly?

  • Increased adoption – the benefits of additive manufacturing are becoming evident to more companies in a wider range of industries, generating increased demand.
  • Decreasing cost – Production devices have become faster and more capable, pushing unit costs downward. With advances in technology and better economies of scale, 3D printing is now justifiable for many large businesses that are looking to reduce manufacturing costs and improve product development cycles. 
  • New Industrial Materials – Many different types of polymers have been created and/or optimized for additive manufacturing. This increases compatibility with mass production and expands the application opportunity for 3D printing.

Common 3D printed plastics and their uses

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)ABS is a strong and durable thermoplastic that is commonly used in FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printing. It is known for its good impact resistance and thermal stability.ABS is often used to print prototypes, functional parts, and final products.
Polylactic Acid (PLA)PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic that is also commonly used in FDM 3D printing. It is known for its ease of use, low warping, and smooth surface finish.PLA is often used to print prototypes, toys, and decorative objects.
Nylon (also known as polyamide)Nylon is a strong and flexible thermoplastic that is used in a variety of AM technologies, including FDM, SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), and SLA (Stereolithography). It is known for its high impact resistance, durability, and chemical resistance.Nylon is often used to print functional parts, jigs, and fixtures.
PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol)PETG is a modified version of PET that is known for its clarity, toughness, and ease of printing.PETG is often used to print prototypes, functional parts, and consumer goods.
PC (Polycarbonate)PC is a strong and durable thermoplastic that is used in a variety of AM technologies, including FDM, SLS, and SLA. It is known for its high impact resistance, heat resistance, and transparency.PC is often used to print functional parts, prototypes, and end-use products.
TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)TPU is a flexible thermoplastic that is used in 3D printing. It is known for its high elasticity, tear resistance, and abrasion resistance.TPU is often used to print prototypes, gaskets, and wearable devices.
PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol)PVA is a water-soluble thermoplastic that is used in FDM 3D printing as a support material. It is known for its good solubility and ease of removal.PVA is often used to print prototypes with complex geometries.
Resin (SLA and DLP)Resin is a photosensitive liquid that is used in SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) 3D printing. It is known for its high resolution and accuracy.Resin is often used to print prototypes, jewelry, and dental models.

HP Jet Fusion Processing Center – material handling for 3D printing

Want more…

In the next article we talk more about MJF and the specific advantages of HP’s unique Nylon PA-12 material. READ IT HERE

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