Soluble Bio-based Support Structures

The objective of this project is to use agricultural raw materials to develop bio-based support structures for 3D printing. The intended outcome of the project is a proof of concept where bio-based materials are used as support materials in 3D printing.

3D printing is increasingly used to make prototype or fully functional parts, since it reduces waste in production and is suitable for highly complex products. 3D printing involves the layer wise, additive manufacturing (AM) of products. To allow the manufacture of complex products, support structures are often required. Typically support structures allow printing of overhangs, downward facing curved surfaces and cavities etc. during the printing process. These support structures are not part of the end-product itself, but have to be removed after production (printing), preferably without leaving any print artefacts.

Replacement by bio-based materials

Due to the special requirements imposed on these support structures, it makes them especially suitable for replacement by bio-based materials:

  • Environmental benefit: Traditional support materials generate chemical waste (or use solvents to remove them) which is hard or impossible to re-use or recycle. Bio-based support materials can be bio-compostable/degradable;
  • Cost benefit: Bio-based support materials  based on low cost agricultural feedstock generate a cost advantage;
  • Functional benefit: Bio-based support materials offer good opportunities to develop water soluble  support structures;

The scope of this project is an extensive feasibility study without detailing the many technology aspects. Focus is on support structure materials and their primary functions such as jettability, offering support and renewability.

It was demonstrated that specific sugar derivatives fulfill the main requirements and are viable alternative support materials.