3D printing and sustainability: Can 3D printing cut our carbon footprint and aid sustainability?

15th June 2020

Can 3D printing cut our carbon footprint and aid sustainability?

With studies showing that 3D printing could help reduce CO2 emission emissions in industrial manufacturing by up to 5% by 2025. Surely there is need for manufacturers to start considering how this technology fits into their businesses practices and for them to help have a positive environmental impact. As a technology it is still only just being adopted with it’s wide range of machines, materials and applications, the sustainability of it is still be truly answered but the time to explore the possibilities are now.

As spoken about previously in one of our other blog posts, in industry 4.0 the ability to create new supply chains with a positive environmental benefit can be done by reducing logistical miles by producing items needed either on site or considerably closer to the end of production. Another added benefit is the reduction in waste.

3D printing technology allows for smaller batches to made and even for parts to be made on demand. With files being saved and accessed more easily the ability to make parts on demand will mean that minimum orders are a thing of the past and so having large amounts of unwanted inventory will be unnecessary.

3D printing Industry

Even though the ability to 3D print has been around for a number of years. The recent advancements has meant that it is now becoming a viable solution for businesses to adopt and use for a number of different reasons.

These advancements mean that companies don’t necessarily need to rely on outsourcing for production parts or even final use parts. All of this can be done in house and usually for a fraction of the cost.

Bringing design and production processes in house also allows for concepts to be generated more quickly and ensure that ideas can be taken to market rapidly. Rapid prototyping is also a benefit that is so attractive to businesses. When producing new concepts, getting them to market quickly means that they could beat competition and also reduce spend in bringing new products to life.

3D printing materials

A benefit of 3D printing is the resourceful use of the printing materials and how it helps reduce waste. Unlike other traditional methods it melts, fuses, binds or sinters the exact amount of material required layer by layer therefore reducing waste.

Reducing this waste, by switching to 3D printing, is one of the benefits that makes the additive technologies so attractive.

When making the parts using 3D printing, usually supports are required to help support the structure to prevent deformation during the 3D printing process. Once the printing is done these supports do have to be removed and so waste is not totally stopped but dramatically reduced compared to other techniques.

Environmental benefit

A possible benefit of 3D printing is the ability to scrap minimum order quantities and allow for parts to be produced on demand. Printing only the required amount will mean that there is less waste and so less resources used.

Another benefit manufacturers should look to consider is not having to overstock when demand may be unpredictable or highly volatile. When wanting to prevent downtime costs they may inadvertently overstock, but then if that stock is then not used a large number of parts could be scrapped and so the logistical miles it has traveled and material waste would not be environmentally friendly.

3D printing’s sustainability.

Overall when adopting the new emerging technologies there are several business benefits that could be gained. The technology allows for businesses to re-imagine their supply chains to bring processes internally to reduce costs but also the distance traveled by each part therefore making it more environmentally friendly at the same time.

Reducing waste also allows for businesses to be more efficient whilst making parts, products and any other items they look to print. Bringing down the waste when producing parts will not only save them money but be more sustainable for the environment as less raw materials will need to be used going forward.

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