How 3D printing can help the circular economy

Date: 30/09/2016

The "up-cycling Additive Manufacturing” (upAM) project, led by the University of Luxembourg in partnership with FabLab and Luxinnovation’s EcoInnovation Cluster, was officially launched during the Oekofoire from 23 to 25 September 2016. Under the slogan “Let’s give plastic a second life!” visitors witnessed how plastic bottles (and various other products made of polymers) were transformed into higher-value products, such as cell phone cases, using 3D printing technology. “This is more than recycling, this is upcycling!” commented Claude Wolf, senior lecturer at the University of Luxembourg.

Along with bachelor students in mechanical engineering, Claude Wolf designed the interactive installation which can transform a disposable polymer product into an upcycled product with a higher added value or functional purpose. “The “upcycling” process is divided into three main steps: the decomposition of the initial product with a grinder; the fabrication of a new polymer filament and, ultimately, the creation of a new product using a 3D printer,” explained Claude Wolf. Claude is very proud of this installation, as it was entirely designed and built by students from the University.

After a first phase dedicated to its development, the "upAM" project will soon go into a second stage, which consists of presenting the installation across the country through information sessions at secondary schools, students and environment fairs, science festivals and at similar events. The aim of this "show tour" is not only to raise awareness about the circular economy but also to stimulate new career interests in engineering. “This is a great opportunity to highlight the different facets of mechanical engineering and to present the studies and career paths offered at the University of Luxembourg,” said Claude.

 And although still a work in progress, this activity and its potential business application demonstrate progress towards decoupling growth from resource consumption (or decreasing the correlation between), a concept critical to the circular economy. Contrary to the linear economy model of “extract, produce, consume, discard”, which tends to reach its limits due to resource constraints, the circular economy’s “reuse, repair, recycle” model focuses on finding a new use for existing materials in order to create added value products. In this model, consumers are aware of their environmental impact and find alternatives without sacrificing their standard of living. Strongly supported by the Ministry of the Economy, this concept has recently emerged in Luxembourg and more and more companies are adopting it to reduce costs and strengthen their business sustainability.

This falls perfectly in line with the goals of the Luxembourg EcoInnovation Cluster, managed by Luxinnovation, the National Agency for Innovation and Research. Through the “upAM” project, the cluster seeks to raise public awareness of the benefits and principles of the circular economy, such as eco-design, re-use, upcycling, etc.…). It is also an excellent showcase for Luxembourg’s first FabLab, or digital fabrication laboratory, established to inspire people and entrepreneurs to turn their innovative ideas into reality via access to advanced digital manufacturing technology.  Diogo Lanca, one of the students who participated in the “upAM” project, clearly enjoyed the experience, saying, “I am so passionate about 3D printing that I joined FabLab to continue working in this field.”

The exhibition at the Oekofoire has generated a great deal of interest and curiosity among visitors who were mainly attracted by the 3D printer. The next exhibition will take place on 7 October 2016 during the celebration of 100 years of engineering education in Belval. The “upAM” project is supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR). More information: https://upam.uni.lu

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