When it comes to 3D printing, how much sustainability is enough?

“Just because the field is progressing does not mean we have grounds for complacency.”

All students of the environment learn the three cardinal rules of sustainability: reduce, reuse and recycle. And as we look to the future, pundits and thought leaders routinely point to 3D printing as a solution for improving and streamlining manufacturing to something leaner, greener and more environmentally friendly.

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Farms and factories require massive emission outputs and loads of energy. Small polymer 3D printing systems, on the other hand, are fuelled with little effort. But additive manufacturing is not a magic bullet. Is 3D printing more sustainable than traditional manufacturing methods? It depends on how you look at it.

In many ways, additive manufacturing is significantly more sustainable, and more reasonable for the environment and the earth, than traditional manufacturing methods. Let us count the ways.

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How 3D printing can impact climate change and business this decade

3D printing is the essence of tech for good. Over the next decade it will be crucial to our ability to solve the climate crisis and it has huge potential to lessen the impact of manufacturing on the planet.

But the business case for embracing 3D printing is just as strong. The technology has the potential to transform every industry and change the way we work and live in the future. Within the manufacturing sector it will play a significant role in reducing waste, challenging global supply chains and offering greater flexibility in the manufacturing process.

Last year, the world experienced unparalleled growth in the 3D printing market. Entrepreneurs have clamored to enter this space for the last five years, competing to develop new software and applications. The venture capital market raised huge funds, to the sum of over $1.1 billion, by 3D printing start-ups in 2019 alone. We are already seeing unprecedented adoption rates and aftermarket supply chain growth.

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Sustainability trends in 3D printing you need to know

HP released its list of predictions for 3D printing and digital manufacturing in 2020. Informed by extensive interviews with a team of experts, this year’s research identifies top trends that will have a major impact on advancing Industry 4.0 such as the need for more sustainable production, how automation will transform the factory floor, and the rise of data and software as the backbone of digital manufacturing.

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“The year ahead will be a time of realizing 3D printing and digital manufacturing’s true potential across industries,” said Pete Basiliere, Founder, Monadnock Insights. “As HP’s trend report indicates, digital manufacturing will enable production of users’ ideal designs by unlocking new and expanded software, data, services, and industrial production solutions that deliver more transformative experiences while also disrupting legacy industries.”

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UK: 3D printing the circular economy through re-distributed manufacturing

As 3D printing revolutionizes industries around the world, it is inevitable that economies will be affected too as business models and supply chains are transformed. Researchers discuss these issues and their findings in the recently published ‘Sustainable Production in a Circular Economy: A Business Model for Re-distributed Manufacturing.’

The researchers list new technological elements that are having an impact such as robotics and the Internet of Things—combined with localized issues like labor costs and the UK economy, as well as enormous global concerns like climate change. The concept and study of re-distributed manufacture (RdM) is developed with an IDEF (Icam DEFinition for Function Modelling) description to serve as a guide for the implementation of the RdM concept in the consumer goods industry.

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3D printing everything: Ultra-cheap, zero-waste products are coming

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3D printing is about to transform manufacturing as we know it, decimating waste, multiplying speed to market, and harnessing never-before-used materials.

Additive manufacturing products and services are projected to more than double by 2024, just five years from today. But not only will 3D printing turn supply chains on their heads here on Earth—shifting how and who manufactures our products—but it will be the vital catalyst for making space colonies (and their infrastructure) possible.

Welcome to the 2030 era of tailor-made, rapid-fire, ultra-cheap, and zero-waste product creation… on our planet, and far beyond.

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How sustainable is 3D printing as a manufacturing process?

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.

How sustainable is 3D printing as a manufacturing process?

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.

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Is 3D printing really a clean technology?

Any new technology, however promising, must be assessed for its environmental sustainability. This applies to 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing (AM), which is being developed as an alternative manufacturing technology in many fields of production. Clean technology is defined in terms of the lifecycle, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, toxic materials, and the use of non-renewable resources.

At present most 3D printing is carried out on a small scale. However, it is expanding quickly as tools and materials become more affordable, process quality improves, and innovative techniques emerge.

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HK start-up using 3D tech to make zero-waste jeans

According to a recent report, a Hong Kong start-up is combining 3D scanning and weaving technology to make the perfect pair of jeans, as consumers’ preferences shift from big-name brands to tech-inspired and sustainable fashion.

HK start-up using 3D tech to make zero-waste jeans

The start-up, based in the US, joined a Hong Kong incubator in February 2019. It is a zero-inventory “techstyle” store where jeans are only made when an order is placed. The incubator says techstyle covers material and supply chain innovation, wearables merging technology and style, and new retail experiences.

The two-year-old robotics and apparel company aims to become a zero-waste operation. It is developing a 3D weaving machine that would completely eliminate fabric waste, with plans to deploy it in stores as early as the end of this year.

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How sustainable is 3D printing?

3D printing sustainability

3D printing is starting to break into the mainstream, and in 2018, the global additive manufacturing market was estimated to have generated revenues of $9.3 billion. By 2020, it could grow to nearly $14 billion. 3D printing is gaining popularity due to its ability to enable rapid prototyping, reduce production costs, increase supply chain efficiency and manufacture unique items. It also has the potential to be a more sustainable method of manufacturing.

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Recycled fridges deliver sustainable 3D printing

Plastic recovered from discarded fridges is being re-purposed into a resilient material that can be used in the 3D printing of scale models and similar outputs. The development follows a partnership between two Dutch specialist, Coolrec, a subsidiary of Renewi, and filament manufacturer Refil.

Refil already makes a range of different coloured filaments from recycled car dashboards and PET bottles. Now it is taking the interior of fridges supplied by e-scrap specialist Coolrec to make High Impact PolyStyrene (HIPS) filament that has a neutral off white colour which is easy to paint or glue, making it a perfect material for the 3D printing of scale models. The filament comes in the two standard diameters of 2.85mm and 1.75mm and has successfully been tested on 3D printers.

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