3D Printing Isn't as Sustainable as We Think

Deemed as a revolution in manufacturing, the service still has opportunities to become more sustainable.

Sd Printing

3D printing has become a staple among several industries in the last decade. Deemed as a revolution in manufacturing, the service still has opportunities to become more sustainable. 

Fast Company reports that 3D printing currently has two key attributes that project it to be sustainable. Generally, 3D printing creates very little waste, and the printers in homes, stores and community centers can use digital designs to make products onsite.

However, there is limited quantitative analysis of the environmental performance of 3D printing, Fast Company reports. Studies focus on energy used during production, not impacts from raw materials production, use of the product itself or waste management. The Journal of Industrial Ecology found the possibilities for dramatic improvements that is needed to understand 3D printing, how it should be implemented and the current state of development. 

3D printers currently have the ability to make products ranging from doorstops, vases and bottle openers from a single material. The technology is a part of additive manufacturing, meaning it can product objects based on digital information by adding layers of materials, Fast Company reports. As additive manufacturing technology becomes more sophisticated, companies are starting to use it to make end-use parts and products. 

The Journal of Industrial Ecology found that additive manufacturing isn't necessarily that good for the environment. Parts products through additive manufacturing often require additional processing that gives them the correct dimensions, Fast Company reports. 

Operational set up and choices about processing details can have a major impact on the environment, the study finds. Scientists are investigating exposure emissions of plastic particles and if there are any hazards that come from using additive manufacturing machinery. 

Contrary to beliefs, additive manufacturing isn't a wasteless process. Fast Company reports that some technologies require temporary support structures during production in order to prevent deformities, and those supports can't always be reprocessed back into raw materials. Another concern the study found was that endless customization could lead to throwaway products. 

While being able to produce a single item at home without having to make an entire batch is a plus, most products made this way can consume more energy than manufacturing with conventional technology and shipping the final product to end users. In order to limit its emissions, companies that use 3D printing should focus on creating spare parts.

Currently, the environmental advantages lie in making spare parts on demand, according to the study. 3D printing has been designed with environmental efficiency in mind, but there are opportunities to pursue it. 

To read the full original article, please click here