The Sustainability of 3D Printing: Fantasy or Actuality?

The Sustainability of 3D Printing: Fantasy or Actuality?

The Sustainability of 3D Printing: Fantasy or Actuality?

Traditionally, high quality, price and supply have been the first drivers for resolution making inside manufacturing. Right this moment, one other phrase is on the minds of executives: Sustainability.

Sustainability is more and more essential in client resolution making, with youthful shoppers flocking to model which can be “greener” than their competitors. Sustainability initiatives can blunt the consequences of fluctuations in vitality costs and availability of fabric sources. And monitoring to sustainability KPIs allows corporations to get forward of regulation that may penalize their carbon footprints. No matter your sector, sustainability have to be a core a part of what you are promoting.

A typical declare is that 3D printing allows a extra sustainable provide chain: By enabling manufacturing on the level of use, 3D printing reduces the carbon footprint that will naturally happen as a consequence of half transportation. 3D printing is a low-waste course of, requiring much less uncooked materials in comparison with subtractive manufacturing strategies. A search of the literature has produced a restricted variety of research accounting for your complete life cycle of 3D printed elements.

So, we truly examined this concept: we in contrast the life cycle of a mass manufactured injection molded half produced in China and a regionally 3D-printed half.

Experiment Methodology

Utilizing a generic automobile cell phone holder as a case research, we developed a strategy to match the carbon footprints of centralized and distributed manufacturing for reasonable, mass-produced merchandise.

We bought a cellphone holder from a provider in China via Amazon and analyzed your complete provide chain, from processing the polymer pellets within the injection molding machine to the half arriving at our doorstep. We additionally examined your complete course of chain for the 3D printed counterpart, produced on a client 3D printer.

The Sustainability of 3D Printing: Fantasy or Actuality? 1

Determine 1: Closing product (left), Injection molding elements (center) and 3D printing platform (proper).

The outcomes, as outlined by the overall carbon footprint, have been as follows:

Mass Manufactured (Kg CO2)
3D Printing (Kg CO2)




Life Utilization


Whereas 3D printing required much less vitality in transportation, it used far more vitality in manufacturing. This result’s typical: Usually, 3D printing machines require 10x the vitality to course of 1KG of fabric in comparison with injection molding and 100x in comparison with CNC machining.

An off-the-cuff observer would possibly observe from the pictures above that the 3D-printed half required printing extra materials that doesn’t find yourself within the remaining half. These “assist constructions” are sometimes a obligatory a part of the 3D printing course of. Construct errors may also be frequent (particularly in consumer-level 3D printers) and our evaluation takes that under consideration. With expertise in 3D printing, each assist constructions and construct threat will be diminished, however not eradicated solely.

Reviewing the outcomes of the carbon footprint in the course of the transportation part, the mass manufactured half travelled from a port in China to our location, whereas the 3D printed half travelled minimally (i.e. ABS from the manufacturing unit to our workplace,) leading to a major distinction.

Lastly, the precise life utilization carbon foot print was comparatively related between the 2 (50 vs 54g, respectively), just because the burden of every half was inside a margin of error.

So, 3D printing shouldn’t be sustainable?

Clearly, the widely-accepted speaking level that 3D printing is inherently extra sustainable than conventional manufacturing is fake. As we confirmed with the cellphone holder, usually mass manufacturing is each extra economically viable and extra sustainable, particularly for elements that require giant volumes and will be produced by conventional manufacturing.

Our instance exposes a wider drawback with how engineers and organizations take into consideration adopting new applied sciences. In our experiment, we took a standard, mass-produced half that was designed for injection molding, “hit print” and analyzed the outcomes. In an effort to point out a relatable use case, we simplified an excessive amount of, however in doing so we demonstrated a bigger, extra essential level: 3D printing isn’t a drop-in alternative for conventional manufacturing, however we frequently deal with it that means as a result of we don’t know any higher.

We’d go even additional to say that, should you’re not planning on benefiting from particular capabilities of 3D printing, you shouldn’t trouble; 3D printing very not often offers benefits as a drop-in alternative to conventional manufacturing.

If 3D printing isn’t a drop-in alternative, how will we begin utilizing it in ways in which make sense? Utilizing 3D printing to drive sustainability requires understanding what these instruments can do, the way to finest deploy them, and the place they’ll fill within the holes in what you are promoting mannequin. We have to begin Considering AdditivelyTM.

First, think about the design freedoms obtainable with 3D printing. Make the most of the design freedoms of additive to optimize the half, while sustaining structural necessities and attaining an appropriate price. By Considering Additively, designers can unlock three major advantages:

Much less Materials – Much less uncooked materials is required to create the half and construct assist constructions. The much less materials wanted, the decrease the fossil gas consumption and related vitality.
Much less Processing – Much less materials dealing with and post-processing instantly correlates to much less vitality required to print the half.
Much less Weight – Lighter weight elements instantly cut back greenhouse fuel emissions each throughout transportation and life utilization.

In our case, after redesigning the cellphone holder, we discovered we may cut back the burden from 54g to 32g, leading to a 40% carbon footprint discount, or 15% decrease carbon footprint than injection molding.

Second, discover what additive can do for the way in which you design and develop merchandise. Occupied with additive as a drop-in alternative will get us prototypes, however actually Considering Additively opens up many extra prospects to each iterate internally quicker and to deliver clients into the design course of.

In conventional manufacturing, as soon as design is finalized, tooling is created, manufacturing begins at scale, and iterating turns into vastly costlier; any change can imply scrapping and recreating tooling, discarding 1000’s of already-produced items, or re-stocking warehouses throughout the globe.

Your early adopter clients are sometimes probably the most essential, but in addition probably the most invested in your product, but utilizing conventional manufacturing implies that the waste inherent in change grows exponentially simply earlier than you may have entry to the truest suggestions in your product. This isn’t the case with additive; as decrease financial manufacturing portions imply that you would be able to pivot rapidly, with diminished waste.

Lastly, begin Considering Additively about what you are promoting mannequin. Additive can enhance the sustainability of your complete lifecycle of your product. Some extra inexperienced facets of 3D printing might embody:

Decreased Stock: Whereas we’ve defined the monetary advantages of spare elements, by not having warehouses filled with stock saves on uncooked materials utilization, storage vitality and arguably saving on throwing away elements after sitting on cabinets for years.
Materials Processing: The arrival of world supplies producers within the 3D printing area (e.g. Solvay, BASF) will doubtless make materials processing extra environment friendly as a consequence of economies of scale.
Product Effectivity: The profit doesn’t cease as soon as the half is manufactured. Enhancing effectivity could make processes extra sustainable (e.g. improved gas nozzle designs equate to improved gas efficiencies). Furthermore, because of design freedoms, meeting will be manufactured with single elements in the identical materials making the product extra recyclable.
Restore and Refurbishment: As a result of 3D printing works by including materials on prime of a layer, it’s properly suited to repairing elements. Elements will be fastened by including materials the place wanted; beforehand disposable elements will be economically repairable.
Waste into manufacturing supplies: As a result of 3D printing can use recycled supplies extra readily than conventional manufacturing, it opens up the potential for round economies, the place waste will be reprocessed into solely new merchandise, similar to recycling 3D printed prototypes again into feedstock for brand new prototypes.

In abstract, 3D printing is usually a inexperienced manufacturing methodology, however actually unlocking its potential as a sustainability enabler in what you are promoting requires Considering Additively. As a consumer, you could perceive when, the place, and the way to deploy the software not solely in product design, however all through your product’s lifecycle. The enterprise worth of 3D printing isn’t in merely producing a less expensive half, however slightly in a mix of lead time discount, threat mitigation, and provide chain efficiencies. Equally, with the sustainability of 3D printing, the environmental worth of 3D printing is present in low quantity manufacturing, diminished stock, and diminished materials waste.

The biggest irony in that is that the 3D printer OEMs have lots to find out about how the instruments they created can drive sustainability inside their very own companies. In some ways these corporations see themselves as conventional producers of business equipment and are consequently change-averse. Maybe the largest leap ahead in utilizing 3D printing as a sustainability enabler may very well be pushed by the 3D printer OEMs themselves in the event that they adopted sustainability as a core technique and drove their enterprise to sustainability KPIs. Usually one of the simplest ways to catalyze change is by main by instance.

Loïc Le Merlus (Supervisor)

Loïc give attention to fixing buyer issues. Working intently with our shoppers, utilizing information evaluation, his proprietary software program and algorithms, or studying analysis papers, he identifies the attainable options and perceive the financial impression that 3D printing and additive manufacturing may have on their companies. Loïc has 10 years main tasks to quantify the impression of the expertise, working with customers and distributors throughout the additive manufacturing business.

Kunal Mehta (Managing Director)

Kunal is liable for main the worldwide enterprise of Blueprint and focuses on driving adoption of 3D printing throughout start-ups, Fortune 500s and governments. Together with his in depth expertise deploying quite a few rising applied sciences, Kunal possesses a novel perspective in serving to organizations obtain excessive efficiency by designing and executing additive methods to reshape their manufacturing processes – persistently offering clients with a differentiated, extra worthwhile, and extra satisfying expertise.

[Feature image courtesy of Little Planet Factory.]

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