In the most recent of several research studies by the American military into potential applications of 3D printing, the United States Army and Marine Corps have entered into a joint project to explore the use of recycled plastic filaments. The goal of the study is to successfully use the PET plastic found in common water and milk bottles to produce a fully recycled filament without the need for additional chemical processing.
The military collaboration targets PET because of its extremely widespread availability. Even in active combat zones, wastewater bottles and milk jugs can often be found among waste and debris from civilian populations. The ability to recycle PET from such products without the need for a complex treatment would allow military units to improvise tools and equipment as needed in forward operational areas. This concept builds on previous military tests that proved the usefulness of 3D printing technology for quickly creating replacement parts in the field.
In addition to pure PET filaments, the joint research team is also exploring the possibility of augmenting the properties of the common plastic by blending it with other polymers. Such blends could produce stronger or more durable filaments suitable for specific uses in the field. These filaments, in turn, could make 3D printing for tools and spare parts much more flexible and functional.
Besides its military applications, though, the ability to 3D print recycled PET could allow for the recycling of huge amounts of waste plastic into useful products. Similar experiments with recycled plastic in India by filament startup Protoprint have made it possible to reuse discarded HDPE plastic while at the same time offering higher pay to the waste pickers who sort the plastics. If the American military’s experiments with PET yield usable, high-quality filaments, they could open the door to massive recycling of plastic waste in landfills in order to feed the growing demand for printable plastics.
From producing on-demand spare parts for units engaged in combat and security operations to making the world greener and less wasteful, new 3D printing technologies are quickly finding their ways into a seemingly limitless number of fields. This growing use of 3D printing is why students need to be exposed to it early. Classroom 3D printers, like those made by Me3D, allow students to learn about this revolutionary technology that may one day be used in almost every major career field.