GUEST BLOG: It is paper, Jim, but not as we know it!

3 min read

Over the past eleven years of marketing a ‘paper based’ 3D printer, I have always been amazed by a person’s first interaction with one of our paper models. “What is the material?” I would explain that it was paper and how SDL worked.

Then the big question, “But what is this made of?” pointing to the paper model. I would say, “It’s paper!” A common reaction is disbelief and comments like, “It feels like wood or plastic,” Or, “It’s so strong and durable – really?” And the comments go on.

A common misperception is that 3D-printed models made out of paper aren’t nearly as strong and durable as parts made from other materials and therefore aren’t suitable for functional use.People conjure images in their minds of origami or papier-mâché.In fact, I am often amazed by just how negatively people view paper as a material from the outset, despite the fact that it is one of the greatest inventions of all time! I regularly get asked, “But what would you use a paper part for??” However, the same question mark is not cast over vastly inferior materials such as powder. Why? I guess everyone has a reference point for paper – we use it in our everyday lives for everything – copybooks, books, documents, paper money, paper towel, packaging, etc. – it is a very familiar material in a certain format (usually 2D) and one that everyone can relate to. However, no one has a reference point for powder so invariably paper is the victim of its success!

When you consider that our process really involves compressed paper, which is essentially wood, it’s no surprise that parts made from paper on a Mcor 3D printer look and feel like wood or plastic.Even better, paper parts won’t warp like some plastics and photopolymers and won’t shatter like certain ceramics and powders. So when people can hold and feel the paper parts, they invariably attest to the fact that they feel nothing like what they were expecting – certainly not as durable or strong. However, it’s more challenging to convey the reality of what a paper 3D paper part really feels like with people who haven’t had a chance to examine one in person. We call this the ‘Doubting Thomas syndrome’ – they have to see and touch to believe!

So to reduce some of the negative connotations about paper as a 3D printing material, I thought that I would outline some of the characteristics of paper in a way that may just change your mind about the real merits of this material!

Strength: Testing of tensile strength (UTS - Ultimate Tensile Strength is measured by the maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before breaking) was recently conducted comparing Mcor’s technology, selective deposition lamination (SDL) with fused filament fabrication (FFF). The SDL resulted in a UTS 32.5MPa while the FFF set a UTS 22MPa, proving that our technology has a tensile strength about 1.5 times greater than plastic.

Thermal Resistance: I know what you are thinking – Paper + Heat = FIRE! Well actually not until it reaches hundreds of degrees! So let’s consider the thermal resistance of paper compared to other materials. 3D printed plastic such as ABS have a glass transition temperature of approximately 100c, meaning it becomes soft and loses its strength above this temperature. PLA has a glass transition temperature of approximately 65c. Paper on the other hand doesn’t have a glass transition temperature, instead holds its strength right up to auto ignition, which is 250c.

Transformative material: Paper is a highly porous material and contains as much as 70% air. Thus, the ability of fluids, both liquid and gaseous, to penetrate the structure of paper becomes a property that is highly significant to the use of paper. So although Mcor parts do not need to be infiltrated with another material to maintain their strength and durability, infiltration with other materials can transform the paper. Paper will take on 70% of the bulk characteristics of any infiltration material and parts can assume varying characteristics from increased strength to flexibility.

This feature in itself really makes paper transformative or really like a chameleon that morphs easily from one format to another.

Eco-friendly: Not only is paper hands down better than plastic or resin in terms of eco-friendly credentials, our paper is a bio paper. It is made to conform to the “long life” International Standard ISO 9706, with an archival life of 200 years. It is also chlorine free and carries the EU Ecolabel which identifies products and services that have reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle, from the extraction of raw material through to production, use and disposal. We are also pleased to say that the paper is FSC certified. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. This system allows consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper and other forest products produced from well-managed forests and/or recycled materials. When you see the FSC logo on our paper, you can be assured that you are helping to ensure our forests are alive for generations to come.

So next time you doubt the merit of paper for 3D printing, think again! 3D printing with paper is paper, Jim, but not as you know it!

Deirdre MacCormack is CMO of Mcor Technologies