With additive manufacturing (AM), novel parts can be designed and built with optimized topologies, eliminating the need for machining individual pieces and then assembling them. Many are hopeful that this technology will benefit the environment through a decrease in the amounts of energy and raw materials required to make components in all sorts of industries.
The Additive Report discussed 3D printing and its place in sustainable manufacturing with MIT Professor Timothy Gutowski, head of the university’s Environmentally Benign Manufacturing (EBM) research group. EBM focuses on examining the environmental effects associated with manufacturing products.
Additive Report: Can you provide an overview of the benefits of 3D printing in terms of sustainability?
Tim Gutowski: Any benefits depend a lot on the details. For lifecycle analysis claims, you’re setting up some version of additive manufacturing versus some version of a conventional manufacturing process. And one problem is that we have a better idea of the waste numbers for conventional manufacturing processes than we do for additive, because the latter is still a work in progress.
Over the past decade 3D printing has captured the imagination of the general public, engineers and environmental visionaries. It has been hailed as both a revolution in manufacturing and an opportunity for dramatic environmental improvement.
3D printing has two key attributes that lead enthusiasts to call it a “green” technology. First, many 3D printing systems generate very little waste, unlike conventional manufacturing techniques such as injection molding, casting, stamping and cutting. Second, 3D printers in homes, stores and community centers can use digital designs to make products onsite, reducing the need to transport products to end users.
3D printing has a lot of potential impacts and uses in business. Prototyping to producing intermediates and making end use 3D printed parts are just some of the application areas where 3D printing is seeing large-scale implementations at the moment. One of the touted benefits of 3D printing is its ability to let companies produce in a more environmentally friendly way. How can 3D printing help companies go green?
Using Less Material
Compared to traditional manufacturing technologies such as CNC, 3D printing often uses less material to make the final part. Rather than starting with a one-kilo block of material and then cutting most of it away, 3D printing builds up an object layer by layer. This means that less material is used in the final part and less material is wasted. Just how much material is saved by using 3D printing depends a lot on the geometry of the part and what it needs to do. Individual 3D printing technologies also would work very differently, which would influence how much material can be saved. In some cases metal 3D printing instead of casting has saved manufacturers 20% or more in raw material. In using FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling, FFF) some industrial parts can be made that overall use 40% less material or more. There are knock on effects of this as well; using less material means buying less and storing less which also saves on shipping and storage costs. Aerospace companies often look at buy to fly ratios to determine cost advantages of parts. A buy to fly ratio is how much material that needs to be purchased versus how much material is used on the final part in the aircraft. 3D printing often comes out as a very advantageous technology when compared to others in this way because so much of the used material ends up in the final part. This is just one of the reasons why the aircraft industry is so interested in the technology.
A great initiative: transform municipal waste plastic into plastic filament for use in 3D printing! It lowers the cost of manufacture and brings designs and capability to where it can be of most value.
Great article by Mike Scott in Forbes:
Much of the focus in the technology world currently is on artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data – and how they will affect the way we use products and how machines operate.
But developing just as quickly, although with slightly less hype, is 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), which is going to have at least as big an impact on how we make things as AI et al. The process creates products by depositing layers of material, generally ground metal or plastic, to a template, lasering that material into place and repeating the process to build the required product – anything from replacement hips to jet engine parts.
Siemens says the technology is a “game-changer,” with benefits including a 30% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 63% reduction in resource use and a shrinking of the time it takes to bring products to market by 75%
As a comparatively new technology that has not yet been fully integrated into the larger manufacturing supply chain, 3D printing represents an opportunity to do things differently. Whereas the industrial revolution of yesteryear established a business as usual plagued with smoke stacks, poisoned water supplies, floating garbage islands and deadly labor practices, advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing, could bring about the implementation of ethical employment, closed-loop production and eco-friendly materials.
If 3D printing is to contribute to the urgent and necessary eco-industrial revolution of the 21st century, we must take stock of both the pitfalls and benefits of the technology as it relates to sustainable production. How can 3D printing aid in efforts to manufacture and deliver products in ways that reduce the negative human impact on the Earth’s ecosystem? What obstacles does the technology face in order to bring about such positive change?
3D printers are the most powerful machines ever invented because they can make finished products—with all their parts—fully assembled. They may also be the greenest machines ever built.
Driven by a digital blueprint, these printers build layer upon layer of fused ceramics, glass, sand, plastic, metal, or other materials. In contrast, traditional manufacturing depends on assembly lines, lots of low-cost labour and mass production. Today, much of that manufacturing takes place in far-off lands, and products must be shipped in long and complex supply chains that extend around the world. All of this has a large energy footprint.
3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) eliminates assembly lines because a single machine can make an entire part or product, and one worker can run an entire room full of 3D printers. 3D printing allows parts to be made near the point of need. Regional manufacturing, distributed all over the world, shortens supply chains and reduces shipping and warehousing.
In addition, it is no more energy-expensive, per part, to 3D print one part vs. a million parts, to customize every part instead of making them all the same, and to make highly complex parts. Using traditional methods, making complex, one-off, and customized parts is an energy hog.
3D printers are the most powerful machines ever invented because they can make finished products, with all their parts, fully assembled. Driven by a digital blueprint, they build layer upon layer of fused plastic, metal, ceramics, glass, sand, or other materials. They may also be the greenest machines ever built.
With 3D printers becoming increasingly accessible, less expensive, and able to create objects out of a range of materials, the additive manufacturing industry is poised to change the way we think about the goods we produce. And with this new technology comes questions about the implications—how will it affect people, the environment?
John Hornick, partner and litigator with the Finnegan IP law firm and author of 3D Printing Will Rock the World, believes that 3D printing will “herald a green industrial revolution.” TechRepublic talked to Hornick to learn four reasons why.