How green is 3D printing?

CFM International’s 3D-printed fuel nozzle reduces part count from 18 to just one. (Image courtesy of GE.)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?

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