3D Printing Set to Take the Sustainability Industry by Storm
One of the most revolutionary changes to happen to the sustainability of manufacturing, 3D printing technology, is taking the world by storm. In recent years, 3D printing has been developed for constructing homes that can take as little as two days to complete and at half the price of traditional construction costs.
All that to say, 3D printing is taking strides to be more efficient and less energy-consuming. In contrast, traditional manufacturing methods generally require lots of time in the assembly line to sculpt raw materials down for a small handful of parts, which adds up to more labor, more wasted materials, and far greater costs.
In 2014, a study was conducted to determine the global sustainability aspects of 3D printing technologies. Researchers found that 3D printing leads to cost reductions, energy saving, and reduced CO2 emissions and waste.
The manufacturing industry is currently one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Producing goods from raw materials consumes a great deal of energy from electric to fuel sources, and the more these materials are utilized, the more production negatively impacts the environment.
To reduce emissions, the key in the industrial sector is material efficiency. The 2014 study finds that 3D printing “induces CO2 emission reduction potentials over the entire life cycle of a product.” And that overall, 3D printing could cut down on CO2 emissions of industrial manufacturing by up to 5% by 2025.
3D printing offers a range of unique advantages compared to traditional manufacturing methods. First, 3D printing involves the addition of material instead of the subtraction of materials. Whereas raw materials must be broken down into separate molds and assembled, 3D printed parts can be created as a whole prototype. This advantage is also why 3D printing is sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing.
Second, 3D printed designs are shared digitally, cutting down on the need for extensive transport. When 3D printed products need to be shipped, they greatly reduce long-term fuel emission from cars and planes due to their light-weighted components.
Seeing a decrease in the outstanding CO2 emissions created by the manufacturing sector would be a welcome change nationwide. That’s not to say that 3D printing is the be-all, end-all to a greener manufacturing industry. In reality, 3D printing also involves waste materials that will likely make their way into landfills. Although the printing process is less wasteful in theory, designs must be established via computer and still improved through simulations before getting it right. That, or the machine makes an error resulting in excessive waste.
The 2014 study affirms that these sustainability results should not be overlooked.
“Despite its early maturation phase, societal decision-makers should become aware of the sustainability potentials of 3DP as it represents a technology which can greatly lower the input and output intensities of industrial manufacturing,” the study reads.
The considerable benefits 3D technology has on sustainable production are undeniable. While many companies look to introduce more sustainable practices into their business plans, they may want to look toward 3D printing to help achieve their goal and reduce their environmental footprint.
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