When we look at factories producing tons of waste materials, vehicles releasing smoke and harmful gases throughout the world and the global warming phenomenon, we realize the price our environment is paying for this advancement.
Our environment can still be saved, without stopping our progress in technology, by the use of additive manufacturing. This technology is so energy-efficient and so waste-free that perhaps it is the savior that we need to save our environment from the hazards of technology.
So, how is additive printing (also called 3D printing) greener than the other manufacturing methods we use today? Let’s find out:
Zero Wastage of Material
A major drawback of today’s manufacturing methods is the large amount of waste they produce. Most of the technologies we use for manufacturing today are “subtractive” in nature. This means that they create objects by cutting or deleting parts of larger materials. So, for instance, if a nail is to be manufactured, a rectangular metal block will be cut by some sharp instrument to give it the shape of a nail.
This naturally means that with each object produced, a lot of waste material is also produced. Getting rid of this waste presents a major problem. Even if all care is observed in the disposal of this waste, environment still suffers.
3D printing, by contrast, manufactures objects by “addition” (hence the name additive manufacturing) instead of subtraction. This means that it starts from raw material (which in most cases is plastic) and deposits layer after layer of plastic to make the final product.
So, with 3D printing, only the amount of material is used which is needed, no more. Furthermore, by using innovative design strategies like printing hollow objects (instead of solid objects), things can be manufactured using far less material than with traditional manufacturing. A study by Department of Energy found that additive printing can Reduce Material Cost by up to 90%
Potential for Recycling
Only few of the materials used in the industries today are recyclable and require complex processes for recycling. Recycled products lack the quality of non-recycled products.
In comparison, most of the materials used in additive printing, including various types of plastics and metals, are recyclable.
By recycling useless and damaged products, additive printing makes sure that materials are used again and again instead of turning into waste.
Zero Transport Energy
Its various parts may be imported and shipped to your country; then, they’re assembled at some local factory in the form of a car; then, it is transported to local showrooms and finally, you take it home from the showroom.
So, in addition to all the energy being used to manufacture and assemble a car, a large amount is being wasted on shipping and transport of its components from factories to sale points and then to customers. 3D Printing a Car could be much better for the environment. The same is true for most of the things around us.
This is where 3D printing can provide a breakthrough. With this technology, every home can become a factory of its own; the only thing required is a 3D printer. Things can be printed right where they’re used. By cutting down transport energy to zero, additive manufacturing can produce products far more efficiently. This is reinforced by a study at Michigan Technological University. According to their press release:
“Pearce’s group found that making the items on a basic 3D printer took from 41 percent to 64 percent less energy than making them in a factory and shipping them to the US.”
Lower Carbon Dioxide Footprint
This carbon dioxide is a significant contributor to air pollution and global warming. EADS, an aerospace and defense research organization, conducted a research with EOS, a Direct Metal Laser Sintering company, on the environmental impacts of additive printing.
Their main focus was on energy consumption and carbon dioxide footprint. They found that not only did additive printing save a lot of energy used and carbon dioxide emitted during transportation but also by Making Lighter Aircraft Components, about 40% less carbon dioxide was used during the operation of such printed parts.
Jon Meyer, Additive Layer Manufacturing Research Team Leader, stated in his final report:
“In general, the joint study revealed that DMLS (a form of additive manufacturing) has the potential to build light, sustainable parts with due regard for the company’s C02 footprint.”
Additive Printings Environmental Impact
A recent article by Robert Olson, a technology analyst, in the Environmental Forum has caught media attention. In it, he puts question marks on many of the proposed environmental benefits of additive printing.
He says that while 3D printing has a lot of potential, there are risks of overprinting of materials and production of toxic fumes from the plastic materials used in additive printing. His lecture on the same topic is available on YouTube.com
He also gives several suggestions by which these obstacles can be overcome and additive printing can be made even more environment-friendly. These are given below:
- Renewable and Biodegradable Materials: Olson says that instead of being content only with materials that are recyclable, we should search for new materials that are biodegradable and renewable.
- Use Non-Toxic Raw Materials: Robert Olson found that ABS plastic which is commonly used in 3D printers produces several toxic substances when it is melted during the process of additive manufacturing. He proposes the use of plastics which don’t produce such substances such as PLA plastic.
- Make Recyclable Printers: Olson says that in addition to recyclable materials, 3D printers themselves should be completely recyclable so that non-functional or damaged printers can be recycled instead of being converted to waste.
- Consumer Education: Another suggestion is to provide Easy-to-Understand Information to the consumers of 3D printers about how to use their printers safely and efficiently.
A Greener Future
Additive printing has recently gained a lot of media attention because of the virtually Limitless Possibilities it provides. As you’ve read in this article, as 3D printing becomes more common, our future won’t just be far more technologically advanced than our present; it will be greener too!
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