Is 3D Printing the Future of Sustainable Manufacturing?
Environmental Leader, November 24, 2015. Image credit: Waag Society
3D 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.
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.
First, it’s more efficient in terms of material consumption, he says. While traditional manufacturing methods employ subtractive manufacturing, which starts with more materials than needed to product products, 3D printing is additive manufacturing. “You are building objects from the bottom up and only using the material where you need it,” Kozarsky says.
However, 3D printing allows manufactures to make structures using lighter materials that aren’t possible to make using traditional methods. Kozarsky points to Airbus as an example of how 3D printing enables lightweighting. Airbus’ 3D-printed titanium cabin bracket makes the aircraft more economical to operate; it reduces fuel consumption and related emissions.
The third sustainability benefit of 3D printing, according to Kozarsky, is that it simplifies the supply chain and logistics. “The concept of on-demand manufacturing is a big benefit and a good example of this is off-shore drilling,” he explains. “From an environmental perspective you don’t need to ship a new part you can make it onsite.” This also reduces downtime that results from waiting for a part to be manufactured off site and shipped to the drilling rig.