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The role of 3D printing during COVID-19 pandemic


Proto21 made 1000 face shields for Dubai Police using Filamentive rPLA

On 3 March 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is putting lives at risk. The need for PPE for frontline workers is further exemplified by the fact that 10 percent and 20 percent of coronavirus cases are health care workers.

According to a BBC investigation, there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government’s pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

3D Printing

In response to the PPE shortage – namely face shields – the 3D printing community mobilised to offer a solution.

Lancashire3D Ltd operate a 3D printer farm using Filamentive materials

For those unfamiliar with 3D printing, it is a broad term for a group of manufacturing technologies that enables a physical part to be created from a digital file. Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) – also know as as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) – is one of the main types of 3D printing, in which a thin plastic wire (known as filament) feeds a 3D printer; the print head melts it and extrudes it onto a plate, building the object layer-by-layer. 

As summarised by a 2016 DHL Report, 3D printing enables:

Lower number of production steps to design, prototype and manufacture highly complex and/or customised products

Faster delivery time through on-demand and decentralised production

Lower logistics and production costs 

Higher sustainability and efficiency 

Enabling Distributed Manufacturing

Prodpoint – a London 3D printing business – using Filamentive PETg to make PPE visors

The democratisation of 3D printing has led to millions in use worldwide. Whilst many designs have been created, it’s the Prusa Face Shield which emerged as the de facto 3D-printable version, following approval from Czech Ministry of Health. The file is downloaded for free (and has been more than 200,000 times), optimised in 3D software, and finally printed as many times as required.

Countless 3D printing operators joined forces, mobilising a ‘Maker Army’. From hobbyists in their own homes through to major organisations such as Cisco, the whole 3D printing community has banded together for greater good.

This “citizen supply chain” is a textbook Theory into Practice implementation of distributed manufacturing – defined by Nesta as a decentralised network whereby “goods can be manufactured on-demand within miles (or even metres) of their point of use”.

Prusa Face Shield

Organisations such as 3DCrowd UK have emerged – managing a network of 8,000+ volunteers to serve as an easy-to-access source of PPE. Filamentive have supported this group – as well as others, such as Makers4TheNHS – with discounted 3D printing filament, funded by the generosity of the general public and corporate sponsors. 

As reported by BBC, there doesn’t seem to be any official guidance for healthcare workers about the use of 3D-printed PPE, however, given the circumstances, the Government and the relevant Healthcare Bodies are certainly not discouraging it. The need for pragmaticism was perfectly summarised by Gary Riches (3DCrowd UK volunteer): “If we worry too much about whether it’s 100% perfect then nobody who needs it will get it”

Examples of 3D Printing Applications

In recent weeks, Filamentive users – as well as the wider 3D printing industry – have been using 3D printing to combat the impacts of COVID-19.

Ventilator splitters 3D printed using Filamentive PLA 3D printer filament

UAE-based Proto21 recently collaborated with Dubai Police for their requirement of face shields. In just 8 days, 1000 3D-printed face shields were made using Filamentive recycled PLA 3D printer filament.

Furthermore – in response to a pressing need for more ventilators to treat critically ill patients – the same company 3D-printed ventilator splitters for a Sharjah Hospital. 250 of these parts were produced in just two days. 

In Reading, UK, Alex Gibson of 3D printing company Edumaker collaborated with Cisco, RACE (business unit of the UK Atomic Energy Authority) as well as Reading University and Oxford Academic Health Science Network to set-up a 3D print farm and assembly line – capable of 300 plus visors a day, to help support local NHS trusts.

Beyond face shields, FormLabs is now using 250 printers in its Ohio factory to manufacture 100,000 nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing each day.

Towards Agile Supply Chains

Whilst increasingly commonplace in industry, research by Sculpteo indicates that prototyping and proof of concept are still the two main applications of 3D printing overall. However, this may be a watershed moment for the technology – as concluded in this Forbes piece, “Perhaps this crisis will open more supply chain practitioners’ eyes to the possibilities of 3D printing”. 

Compared to traditional manufacturing techniques such as Injection Moulding, 3D printing does not involve tooling, setup costs, or other associated costs. It therefore challenges the very notion of economies of scale. Generally, the cost-per-part is virtually the same, whether you’re producing one piece, or a thousand!

Sustainable Future

Filamentive 3D printer filament made from recycled materials

In an increasingly environmentally-aware world, sustainability cannot be ignored. Whilst fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, the use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic problem unless we can find sustainable solutions. This is why at Filamentive, we prioritise recycled plastics, minimising the amount of virgin material used to manufacture 3D printing filament – limiting finite resource use, reducing plastic pollution, and enabling Circular Economy.

Whilst there is certainly room for further refinement, 3D printing could be a much-needed, shining light amidst these dark times – catalysing quick, low-cost, sustainable, local manufacturing.

The hope is that greater awareness brings greater action.

Reuse, return, remake: Twin Toys launches new range of children’s toys using 3D printing and recycled bio-plastics

3D-printed toys from Twin Toys

Twin Toys make colourful, safe, and engaging toys for children – designed and 3D-printed in the UK with recycled bio-plastic from Filamentive.

Twin Toys’ aim is to make children’s toys that are fully circular from using recycled bio-plastics and 3d printing, to being able to return them end of life to be remade into something new. All toys are designed, 3D-printed, and sold in the UK to reduce impact on the environment and ensure materials are recirculated where they are created.

  • Uses 50% recycled content
  • Non-toxic plant-based material
  • Suitable for 12 months +
  • Certified and tested to UK and EU safety standards
  • Can be returned end of life
  • Reuse, return, remake

The idea for Twin Toys was created by Director, Susie Page, who is a mum of three years old twins, and an environmental professional working in the corporate sector.

She says, ‘plastic can be a great material for children’s toys as its versatile and brightly coloured. There are very few toy makers offering alternatives to virgin based plastic toys, and while wooden toys are great and we have plenty of those, I wanted to create products with plastic that are fully circular and aim to reduce environmental impact’.

Susie Page, Director, Twin Toys Ltd

Twin Toys are launching with three shape-based toys targeted at 12+ months to support children’s skills with building, stacking and identifying different shapes and colours.

Launch date 1st February 2020

Contact: Susie Page, Director



Phone: 07715 467 048

Twin Toys (  – are a Buckingham-based company making colourful, safe, and engaging toys for children, designed and manufacturing in the UK using 3D printing and recycled bio-plastics. All toys are tested to UK, AU, and EU standards. Non- toxic plant based material. BPA-free & Phthalates-free.

Filamentive ( is the market leader in sustainable materials for FFF 3D Printing. The company was founded to address the environmental need to use more recycled plastics in 3D printing, and also alleviate market concerns over quality and long-term sustainability. Filamentive has experienced rapid growth and continues to address the questions surrounding 3D printing recycled materials. Headquartered in Bradford, United Kingdom, its customers include a global network of makers, industry and education clients.

The 3D Printing Waste Problem

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is one of the main types of 3D printing. FDM is a process in which a thin filament of plastic wire feeds a 3D printer; the print head melts it and extrudes it onto a build plate.

However, 3D-printing is regarded as somewhat of a double-edged sword – whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, the use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic problem unless we can find sustainable solutions.

Material Sustainability Survey

In early 2019 we sent out a survey (>200 respondents) to assess the state of material sustainability in 3D printing – encompassing material choice, wastage and preference for recycled filament.

Filament usage varied; it can be safely assumed that hobbyists use much less filament that a 3D-printing service business. Taking a median perspective, the majority of 3D printer users surveyed use ≤2 kg / month (24 kg annually).

It was certainly notable that all respondents confirmed that 3D printing creates waste to some degree (no one answering 0%). 6-19% was clearly the most popular answer. Taking a lower percentile average of 10%, we can aggregate this with 3D printer filament usage (kg) to calculate a 3D printing waste volume of 8 million kilograms (2020).

Respondents were then asked to choose their biggest cause/s of 3D printing waste – Test prints, unwanted prototypes, support structures, failed prints, other.

As exemplified here, the ease of 3D printing will still breed masses of unwanted printsFastCompany aptly used the terms “crapjects” to describe how “on-demand production and endless customisation could lead to dramatic increases in throwaway consumer products.”

Prevention > Cure

In regards to test-prints and unwanted prototypes, education of the ‘plastic problem’ could catalyse behaviour change, but that is of course easier said than done – especially when prototyping is the key reason why most use 3D printers in the first place. 

Support structures are critical for complex geometries – however on 3D printers capable of dual-extrusion, using a water-soluble filament – such as PVA (Polycinyl Alcohol) – is certainly advised as the polymer is completely water soluble, leaving no waste behind. 

As quantified in the survey, failed prints cause the biggest headache for 3D printer users, accounting for more than 80% of 3D printing waste. Such failures can be caused by a multitude of reasons – from bad quality filament and bed adhesion issues, to slicing errors and hardware failures. 

3D printing is one big learning curve, and the benefit of (most) failures is that you’ll hopefully learn to avoid it next time. At Filamentive, we are huge fans of the Simplify3D Print Quality Troubleshooting Guide – an extensive list of the most common 3D printing issues along with guidance that you can use to solve them. 

Recycling 3D Printing Waste

When waste cannot be avoided, recycling such waste is often the first thought of many.

As a provider of filament made from recycled plastic, recycling waste/failed 3D-prints is definitely an aspiration. Many operational and logistic concerns exist in regards to receiving waste, in addition to the obvious challenge of quality control. To explain our position, we wrote an article titled: Recycling Failed and Waste 3D Prints into Filament: Challenges

We also have a blog post on what to do with failed prints and 3D printing waste.

For ‘3D printer farms’ and businesses using high volumes of 3D printing, it may be shrewd for an in-situ recycling system to be developed. Our friends at Lancashire3D have achieved exactly that – 3D-printed waste is collected, shredded, and remanufactured – using a desktop 3D printing extruder – into 100% recycled filament. Whilst this certainly has the potential to reduce waste and also on-going material costs, it can be expensive in the first instance (buying equipment) and labour-intensive thereafter. 


Gartner suggests that there will be 6.7 million 3D printers sold by the year 2020. Even by assuming a conservative view that only 50% of that quantity will be achieved, this would still equate to more than 80 million kilograms of plastic filament needed to sustain the market. Taking a lower percentile average of 10% waste per 3D printer, we can aggregate this with 3D printer filament usage (kg) to calculate a 3D printing waste volume of 8 million kilograms (2020). Certainly minuscule compared to overall plastic waste, but significant nonetheless.

As said, prevention is better than the cure and the onus is certainly on individuals to evaluate their own use of 3D printing and adapt their 3D printing use to reduce environmental impact.

Of course this is not always possible and there will always be waste associated with 3D printing – it is therefore imperative that we see increased collaboration between material companies, 3D printer manufacturers and the recycling sector in order to work towards ‘closing the loop’ in 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing and ultimately harness a circular economy


At Filamentive, environmental sustainability is central to our business model. In order to reduce the impact of (FFF) 3D printing and mitigate the Plastic Problem we commit to:

  • Using recycled materials (both post-consumer and post-industrial) where possible 
  • Avoid the use of new, virgin polymers to reduce energy and demand for raw materials. 
  • Utlise plant-based bioplastics when there is no recycled alternative
  • Using 100% recyclable cardboard spools to further reduce waste

How Sustainable is PLA?

“Is PLA is sustainable?” “Is PLA is biodegradable?” “Is PLA is compostable?” “Is PLA is recyclable?”.

As a brand of 3D printer filament, questions like this are received on an almost daily basis. As sustainability is central to our business model and ethos, we feel it is our duty to interrogate the cliché environmental claims.

This post seeks to therefore explore the credibility of each of the four key environmental benefits put forward by industry and marketers alike.

3D Printing

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is one of the main types of 3D printing. FDM is an additive manufacturing process in which a thin filament of plastic wire feeds a 3D printer; the print head melts it and extrudes it onto a build plate.

PLA is the most popular 3D printing filament material – as exemplified in a recent survey which shows that more than 95% of 3D printing users use PLA. 

Most Popular 3D Printer Filament Materials

Is PLA Sustainable?

Growth of Crops Used to Make PLA

Bioplastic refers to plastic made from plant / biological material instead of oil. Polylactic acid / polylactide (PLA) is an example of a bioplastic.

However, bioplastics – such as PLA – compete for land with food crops. According to the Guardian, bioplastics need several million acres of farmland, which reduces the space available for food crops growth. However, this problem may be over-stated as according to an estimation by European Bioplastics, “… the land area used to grow biomass for the production of bioplastics in 2017 corresponded to 0.016 percent of the global agricultural area, 97 percent of which are used to grow food and feed. Even with the predicted high growth-rates… the land-use share would only slightly increase to up to 0.021 percent of the agricultural area by 2022.”

Is PLA Biodegradable?

Biodegrading of Plastic

Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to decompose after interactions with biological elements. Whilst PLA is biodegradable, it does so very slowly. Analysts estimate that a PLA bottle could take up to 1000 years to decompose in a landfill. Even NatureWorks, the world’s largest producer of PLA, have openly accepted that its products would not fully break down on landfill sites. 

Further research by nova-Institut GmbH illustrates PLA is only biodegradable under industrial / anaerobic composting conditions. No evidence exists to prove biodegradability in soil, home compost nor landfill.

Is PLA Compostable? 

Composting Process

While biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, compostable materials require special composting conditions.

According to Elizabeth Royte, writing in Smithsonian, ‘PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a controlled composting environment in fewer than 90 days. However, ‘controlled composting environment’ refers to industrial composting facility heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and fed a steady diet of digestive microbes. 

Whilst this proves PLA is biodegradable / compostable, again it’s a feasibility versus practicality argument. The Guardian found that only a handful of anaerobic digesters exist in Britain, and even then without a centralised collection infrastructure the average consumer is unable to access such facilities.  

Is PLA Recyclable?

Recycling Process

As concluded in a 2016 academic paper, “…mechanical recycling presented the lowest environmental impact…”. The (mechanical) recycling process of PLA includes the following steps: separation, grinding, washing, drying, extrusion, cooling, granulation and sieving of recycled PLA. 

Whilst recycling PLA is certainly feasible it is not necessarily practical. Because PLA of different origin than regular plastic, it must be kept separate when recycled, otherwise it can contaminate the recycling stream – thus making such streams unsaleable. As the BBC stated in February 2019, the technology for plant-based compostables has come so far that it is hard to tell which is plastic and which is bio-plastic (PLA). 

Some 3D printing users are recycling their (PLA) 3D printing waste by shredding failed / unwanted 3D-prints and using a desktop extruder to remanufacture into filament. Whilst this is indeed a useful way to recycle 3D printing waste and avoid landfill, it is far from cheapmany desktop extruders will set you back hundreds of pounds – and many challenges exist, as we discussed in a recent blog post. 



Whilst there are elements of greenwashing when it comes to the marketing of PLA, the evidence still suggests it is a step in the right direction in our attempts to reduce the consumption of non-renewable petroleum. Not only is PLA plant-based, but [according to Natureworks] it also emits a fraction of the greenhouse gases compared to other plastics, as well as much less energy intensive.

Specific to 3D printing, the improvement of 3D printing hardware and slicing software is reducing print failures and thus wastage. Of course the ease of 3D printing will still breed masses of unwanted prints, however, low cost, upcycling solutions do exists, as we discussed in our recent blog: What to do with Failed Prints and 3D Printing Waste.

In order to work towards a circular economy framework for bioplastics such as PLA, investment is required to catalyse technological innovation in order to develop a sustainable recovery infrastructure for bioplastics such as PLA. Once achieved this will give rise to further landfill avoidance and an increase in PLA recycling – be it mechanical recycling or composting.


Filamentive PLA 3D Printer Filament

Whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, academic research has found that “material sustainability is an issue that can no longer be ignored due to wide adoption of 3D printing”. The use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic epidemic unless we can find a sustainable solution.

Filamentive, a brand of high quality 3D printing filament, with a primary objective to drive environmental change in 3D printing.

Recycled PLA – sourced from post-industrial extrusion waste – is used in lieu of virgin PLA where possible – in fact in 2018, more than half of all PLA filament produced was made from recycled sources, resulting in:

  • Reduced environmental impact of plastic-rich products
  • Minimised plastic being sent to the diminishing landfill sites
  • Avoided the consumption of the Earth’s oil stocks
  • Consumed less energy than producing new, virgin polymers

More information of the Filamentive filament production process can be found here.

Hopefully this has been an interesting and informative read – feel free to visit for more information or email us.

Recycling Failed and Waste 3D Prints into Filament: Challenges

In response to growing interest into the area of recycled filament and the regular enquiries we receive regarding failed/waste 3D print recycling, we thought we’d take the time to clarify our position – this article specifically will focus on the challenges preventing us offering such a service (currently). 

Do you accept 3D printing waste?

Can you recycle failed prints?

Will you recycle our PLA waste back into PLA filament?

The example quotes above are just an overview of the types of emails, calls and enquiries we receive on a daily basis. As a provider of 3D printing filament made from recycled plastic, we feel it is necessary to explain the current challenges of recycling failed & waste 3D prints into recycled 3D printer filament.

Environmental Need

Whilst at its core 3D printing is fundamentally less wasteful than traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods, academic research has found that “material sustainability is an issue that can no longer be ignored due to wide adoption of 3D printing”. The use of plastic as a feedstock has the potential to exacerbate the global plastic epidemic unless we can find a sustainable solution.

How Filamentive Produces Filament

Sustainability is at the heart of our business model. Where possible, recycled materials will be used to produce our 3D printer filament – we are the first filament brand to declare the recycled content of all 3D printing filament products, in accordance with ISO 14021.

Material sourcing

A careful selection criteria is in place in order to guarantee quality, consistent waste streams. We use both post-consumer waste – for example recycled PET bottles to produce our ONE PET filament, as well as post-industrial waste – such as material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process, which is how we produce our PLA filament. 


Plastic filament for 3D printers is produced by a process known as plastic extrusion. This process starts by feeding plastic material (pellets, granules, flakes or powders) from a hopper into the barrel of the extruder. The material is gradually melted by the mechanical energy generated by turning screws and by heaters arranged along the barrel. The molten polymer is then forced into a die, which shapes the polymer into the shape of filament – typically either 1.75mm or 2.85mm in diameter. The extrusion work is currently outsourced to our specialist producer who are able to guarantee quality, consistency and manufacturing at scale. 

Quality assurance

All feedstock streams are meticulously checked to ensure homogeneity. During extrusion, filament is measured by lasers from 2-axes, with an alarm bell sounding if the diameter falls outside our high standards. Filament is then wound onto bulk spools for visual inspection before it is put onto the individual spools to be packaged. Each batch produced undergoes a rigorous 3D printing test; if we’re not happy with the print quality then it won’t leave the factory, simple as.


Quality control – High quality filament is essential for high quality 3D-prints. Should we ever begin to accept returned 3D printing waste, it is very difficult – perhaps impossible – to verify that the returned plastic is entirely Filamentive material. There is variation between PLA formulas – let alone different materials altogether – and so if the waste-stream is contaminated, the filament extruded will unusable. Furthermore, an academic study found that were significant deteriorations in most mechanical properties after three recycling cycles” – which basically means that even if waste could be successfully separated, the filament quality would be very low, and in order to maintain mechanical properties, virgin material needs to be added which may negate the environmental benefit. 

Logistics – Plastic has a high volume-to-weight ratio which can make collections less efficient than the collection of other recyclable materials that weigh more. This is a major reason why plastic waste recycling rates are low in general. In a nutshell, this basically means plastic is expensive to transport which is barrier for customers and suppliers alike. Also, as we do not yet manufacture in-house, any waste would then need to be sent to one of our production partners which will incur transport emissions and perhaps offset some – if not all – environmental benefits. 

Economics – As with any business strategy, the financials need to be viable. Should customers not be willing to send their waste back at their cost, we would need to add the cost of waste collection and recycling into our product price. Whilst this would make sense for customers for others it would be unfair if they are not taking advantage of a service they are in-directly paying for.

Market viability – even if all the the above challenges were addresses, there are still many market factors to consider, such as:

  • Would we need to create a new brand/sub-brand for this new filament?
  • What price are customers willing to pay for such a product?
  • If filament cannot be created whom can we sell/send waste to? 

Plastic bottles being collected by our partner, Tridea

Moving forward

Despite the challenges, recycling 3D printing waste has long been an aspiration of ours and we’re continuously researching the viability of a waste management service. Offering such a service one-day will truly help us move one step closer to achieving a circular economy and reduce – if not eliminate – plastic waste within 3D printing. Until such a solution is achieved, we will still continue to be the sustainable choice in 3D printing by committing to:

  • Using recycled material (post-consumer and post-industrial) where possible 
  • Avoid the use of new, virgin polymers to reduce energy and demand for raw materials. 
  • Utlise plant-based bioplastics when there is no recycled alternative
  • Forming strategic partnerships with recycling companies to use their waste streams to produce filament
  • Using 100% recyclable cardboard spools to further reduce waste and increase the recyclability of our products/packaging

Hopefully this has been an interesting and informative read – if you have any questions about recycled filament or indeed anything related to Filamentive, please email us.