Printing our way to sustainability

Since 2015 3D Folkes has been providing a service advantageous when compared with ancestral methods of product manufacturing. Compared with older technologies, such as injection moulding, 3D printing allows for the generation of far more complex products with previously impossible forms all the while maximising material use and minimising waste. As if that wasn’t enough, the process of 3D printing, from design right through to production, is a far less energy intensive practice than older manufacturing processes.

However, the benefits of 3D printing should not blind us to the fact that, like most industry, it is contributing to the plastic problem currently faced by the planet. The 3D printing process, for anyone uncertain, works by progressively feeding plastic filament into a heated nozzle, the filament is therefore subjected to high temperatures and melts before being extruded outwards and formed into layers to produce a 3D model of the original design.

Many companies print with ABS and PLA filaments, what they stand for isn’t important, but what is important is that these are plastics. ABS is derived from crude oil and has a very direct impact on the planet, whereas PLA is a bioplastic, actually derived from plant material. Despite being largely derived from plants, PLA still has plastic elements and to produce the bioplastic in the first place plants are made to compete for land and resources with food crops and biofuels which we so desperately need.

Unfortunately, plastic is now ubiquitous in society, with the production of plastic increasing by 500% over the last 30 years. With the expectation that this problem can only worsen as plastics begin to replace metal, wood and glass in a variety of industries, we at 3D Folkes were presented with a problem: how can we care about our clients without taking care of the planet they live in?

 Printing our way to sustainability 1

Enter recycled filament. Early in 2018 we were approached by Pearlfisher, one of the world’s leading design companies. They commissioned a piece of work for the Chelsea Flower Show, depicting a 2m high Japanese pearl diver. The famously known pearl divers are women who have trained themselves for generations to dive for pearls in the ocean off the coast of Japan, however now, due to the increasing plastic in the ocean, new generations no longer wish to dive for pearls resulting in the loss of centuries of tradition. Understandably given the background to the project Pearlfisher therefore insisted that the diver be printed using recycled filament.

Prior to this recycled filament had not been on our radar but since completing the project we decided to make the switch and become an environmentally conscious design and manufacturing company. This was enabled thanks to Ravi Toor, the managing director of Filamentive, a recycled filament wholesalers. With Filamentive being found the same year as 3D Folkes it was like it was meant to be and quickly we became exclusive, making Filamentive our sole filament supplier.

The environmental benefits of our decision are astounding thanks to the lower energy costs and, of course, the reduced need for more plastic. No longer are we contributing to the unnecessary use of valuable resources, the release of pollution or the destruction of habitats. However, we know we can do more. Due to the advancements in technology it is now possible to have an in-house recycling process whereby we are able to recycle any prints which may, for whatever reason, go to waste. We aren’t quite there yet but this is something we will certainly be looking to do in the future so that we will wholeheartedly be taking care of our clients and the world they live in.

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Thanks to our partnership with Filamentive, we, as a company, have reduced our environmental footprint and this is something we could not be prouder of.