A new industrial revolution for the plastics industry in Europe could be on the way thanks to three-dimensional printing technology (3D printing), according to The European Plastics Distributors Association (EPDA).

Additive manufacturing – often referred to as 3D printing – is rapidly expanding meaning future demand for plastic materials used in the process, such as Nylon, ABS, Polylactic acid (PLA), High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), is sure to increase.

From printing parts for the military to medical implants, jewellery and football boots designed for individual feet, this evolving technology also offers the plastics industry exciting opportunities for developing new markets as it gives manufacturers the potential to launch a whole swathe of products more quickly at lower costs and with fewer risks.

By offering a 3D printing service plastics suppliers can produce three-dimensional models of a concept within a short space of time – this can help customers quickly decide on the suitability of their concept before moving onto the design and development stages, saving on storage and reducing transport costs.

In order to create the 3D print, scanner cameras are moved around the subject covering the entire surface area. This takes around two minutes. The shape is then recreated in 3D form by spraying plastic fluid in thin layers to build up a solid object. They can be made in colour, white or covered in a bronze-style coating.

EPDA member Vink Kunststoffen BV says that accommodating small production runs, and creating prototypes will improve the speed of products to market and help the industry become more efficient as manufacturers will no longer need to keep large volumes of standardised products in stock, moving instead to a more flexible ‘made to order’ approach.

The Netherlands-based company stated: “More and more high-quality plastics will be modified to be 3D printed to meet the growth of rapid prototyping and manufacturing. Adopting this technology also adds a solution for small production runs. By exploring this new avenue of business, plastics distributors can expand their portfolio in the digital sector by supplying the likes of print factories and on-demand printing firms with the high quality plastics that are needed for 3D printing.”

3D printing provides another dimension in processing techniques for plastic. In addition to supplying a traditional cross section of plastic sheet, blocks, rods, profiles, tubes, pipe, valves and fittings plastics suppliers can expand their production capabilities by stocking materials such as filament, granules and nylon (powder).

Some plastic distributors (such as afore-mentioned Vink Kunststoffen) have already responded to the 3D printing challenge by offering in-house training, on-demand print centres for small production runs and prototypes as well as supplying materials and advising manufacturers on demand – in other words providing a one-stop shop solution for all 3D printing needs.