Company Voices on Sustainability Vol. 3

Paul Schepers – Product Manager at BASF Forward AM

At BASF Forward AM, creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come is a central part of who we are. And as we focus on these new goals, we rely on each of our team members to be an integral part of our #ProjectZero initiatives. With that said, we are launching a blog series called “Company Voices on Sustainability,” where you will hear from individuals at Forward AM and how they are living more sustainably in both their professional and personal lives. Check out their stories on our Sustainability page.

The Only Way Forward is Together

#ProjectZero is a long-term commitment to reducing our impact on the planet by developing sustainable products, solutions, and production methods, while also studying the impact of the 3D printing industry and evolving the way we work through the education and encouragement of our team to make responsible choices.

The Innovative Development of Sustainable Products: Shaping the Future of Recycled Spools and Recycled Filaments

Paul has been with Forward AM since 2021 and has a background in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. His interest in Additive Manufacturing (AM) began in 2013 when he recorded his own heartbeat and embedded the design in a silver ring as present for his wife. He is currently responsible for the entire life cycle of the Additive Extrusion Systems products including Ultrafuse® filament products as well as white and private labels. During the product development process, Paul maintains a strong focus on increasing the sustainability along the entire value chain.


In your role, how do you include sustainability initiatives in the commercialization of the Ultrafuse® Filaments?

Paul: Before delving into my personal perspective of how we incorporate sustainability initiatives into Ultrafuse® Filament products, it is valuable to understand the company as sustainability is rooted in its foundation.

The story begins in around 2012 with a start-up 3D filament production activity in an independent research-orientated company in The Netherlands. There was already a focus on extruding sustainable materials like PLA for several applications. This was also the reason we were approached by local printer manufacturers. They wanted us to create a filament that was not only of the highest quality but was also biobased and would make a positive impact on the environment.

To achieve this goal, we developed a tailored filament production process that involved using plant-based materials to make the PLA filament. This material, when used in combination with 3D printing, is more efficient and cost-effective than traditional materials/shaping technologies, allowing the company to remain competitive in the AM market.

Nowadays, PLA is still one of the most popular filaments commodities in FFF 3D printing. We then took our sustainability initiative a step further and partnered with local businesses who collect and recycle plastic waste and used it for our filament production. This allowed us to create a fully sustainable product that was not only good for the environment, but also provided economic benefits to the local community. The portfolio expanded with the birth of filaments made out of recycled materials including: rPLA, rABS, and Ultrafuse® rPET, which is made from 99-100% recycled PETG.

Besides the starch-based standard PLA, our Research and Development department crafted biobased engineering filament grades, namely the Ultrafuse® PLA PRO1 and TPC 45D. The PRO1 material is optimized for engineering applications and allows for a 30% printing time reduction. The TPC 45D is a high-performance flexible material and a sustainable alternative to conventional rubbers as it utilizes 40% rapeseed oil instead of fossil based mineral oil.

When introducing sustainable alternatives, it is essential to understand the impact categories that influence the greenhouse gas equivalencies of the product, also known as the footprint of the product and that of the shaping technology. We performed a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on our products, which analyzes the source of materials, the amount of packaging, filament production efficiencies, type of energy utilized, logistic travel routes, and more. This product LCA is transforming raw data into information, which assist product managers like me as well as our customers, to make informed decisions; and by making better decisions regarding sustainability, track their improvements over time and be transparent to customers without green washing.

A few of the footprint reduction initiatives we implemented last 1-2 years are as follows:

  • Besides continuous manufacturing optimizations to produce products with less resources we moved from fossil-based energy to Dutch wind energy at the production site in Emmen, The Netherlands.
  • Utilized a fully electrified filament extrusion line.
  • Installed energy-saving lighting at the production site in Emmen.

Our Ultrafuse spools are based on 90 – 100% recycled raw material. The material is based on either one or both, postconsumer and post-production resources.

Optimized the Ultrafuse retailbox packaging, which saves an average of 40.65% of cardboard raw materials. Further, we can ship up to 15% more products on one fully loaded pallet when compared to the previous setup. Which results in a reduced warehouse travels and required space to store products.

These efforts are helping us to create a more sustainable future for our customers, the environment, and our local community. I am proud to be an enabler and part of this positive change and continue to strive towards a more sustainable future.

Has this change been difficult to implement?

Paul: Every change comes with a unique set of challenges before it can be implemented. In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, it all rests on perseverance. While perseverance is not a long race, it is many short races one after the another.

For example, all our Ultrafuse® spools currently consist of 90 – 100% recycled raw material instead of being fabricated from virgin raw materials. This implementation is repeated for every product (i.e. 750, 1000, 2000, 4000, 8000 gr) and then each supplier will need to provide a declaration of conformity for each specific product; so many short races one after the other.

A switch that was executed with minimal effort and with great help of our supplier, is the implementation of Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) cardboard for our Ultrafuse® retail box. The box is designed to protect our product and is now credible forest certified. The FSC® helps take care of forests and the people and wildlife who call them home. In short, by choosing products with FSC® labels, you are contributing to the protection of forest worldwide. So Kudos to our packaging supplier!

But with these changes and improvements comes an additional cost. It can be very challenging to motivate clients to purchase our sustainable products as in most situations these can be pricier then competition products without the sustainable initiatives and benefits to our planet.

There is a quote that I learned from my parents at a very young age and that I feel speaks to this same sentiment. In not only about how one chooses to live, but also in striving to reduce the impact of a product is the following: “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.” (In Dutch: “Verbeter de wereld, maar begin bij jezelf.”)

For me this quote is the inspiration behind what kind of influence I can have within a chemical company like BASF. The opportunity to help create products which are more sustainable to the environment and reducing our impact on the depletion of natural resources, and thereby supporting long term ecological and social balance.

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