The Environmental Impact of 3D Printing

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3D printing is making news everywhere. It is poised to revolutionize manufacturing in many ways but the big question at what ecological costs.  We are already witnessing the disastrous impacts of climate change and we do not want to make things worse for next generation. So where does the 3D printing technology stand on the green scale? Read to find out.

The Greener Side

The waste of material is a big concern in the manufacturing industry and the 3D printing seems greener than CNC processing.  The FDM machine can have negligible waste provided your model does not require any support material while printing.  The 3D printer can print hollow parts that reduce the need for material.  In fact, you will be surprised to know the FDM machine can print more than 90% or more hollow part which not only reduces material use but also reduces energy use.

One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is it can make things lighter. Imagine reducing the weight of the car or an airplane, won’t it reduce the fuel consumption significantly.  3D printing technology can also be used to produce complicated shapes like wind turbines or cars. The 3D models can be made lightweight that will reduce the energy consumption of the machines they are fitted in.

3D printers can be used to build varied parts without making any significant changes to the setup of the machine. Unlike CNC machines where the tooling parts and the assembly setup needs to be changed for manufacturing different parts, the 3D printer supports maximum utilization. This eliminates the idle energy use.

The 3D models can be created almost anywhere so in future there will less need to transport finished goods from one place to another that can reduce transportation costs and emissions associated with it.  3D printing uses a large amount of plastic which is recyclable.  The 3D printing technology has evolved overtime.

The Less Green Side

3D printers consume a huge amount of electricity in comparison to CNC or other machining tools. The laser or heat technology used to fuse materials requires a large amount of power and it can have significant effects on the environment especially in countries where fossil fuel is used to generate electricity.

The Final Verdict

 The 3D printing technology is evolving at a rapid pace and we can expect hundreds of materials available for 3D printing like glass, ceramic, plaster etc. 3D printing researchers are also considering the possibility of using PLA-Bio plastic that requires less heat energy to melt and can significantly bring down the energy consumption of 3D printers.  There are several experiments carried out to use the wood pulp as an adhesive binder that needs less energy than melting plastic.  3D printing is expected to become greener with inventions like Solar Sinter that uses solar energy to fuse sand into glass. Such examples are only the beginning of making 3D printing greener. Looking at the trend in 3D printing technology advances, we can hope that 3D printers of the future will use 100% renewable energy and locally available materials which are in abundance.

About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is the first online 3D printing magazine in India. We offer 3D printing news in India, analysis and insights from the 3D printing world of India. Check out our 3D Printing Info page for more information on 3D printing.


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