Is 3D printing the future of sustainable manufacturing?

3D printing3D printing increases efficiency and reduces waste, making it a valuable tool in efforts to make manufacturing more sustainable. Its applications range from medical devices to aerospace — and possibly even drinking water.

Earlier this month General Electric announced a project with the Department of Energy that uses 3D printed turbines in a process that could make desalinated seawater 20 percent less costly to produce.

The environmental and economic benefits of 3D printing have the potential to transform traditional manufacturing through cost reductions, energy saving and reduced CO2 emissions, according to a paper published last month in the journal Energy Policy. 3D printing can potentially reduce manufacturing costs by $170 billion to $593 billion, energy use by 2.54–9.30 exajoules (EJ) and CO2 emissions by 130.5 to 525.5 metric tons by 2025, the paper says. The range within the savings is due to the immature state of the technology and the associated uncertainties of predicting market developments.

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