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Is 3D Printing Sustainable?

Is 3D Printing Sustainable?

Sustainability in 3D Printing?

Most manufacturing industries with recent technological developments are now switching towards more sustainable practices to avoid wastage and conserve energy. 

With great enthusiasm in regards to 3D printing, a European Commission study has revealed that 90% of the raw materials can be conserved for the future. This will reduce the production costs by 50%, which will be great for companies who want to start 3D printing.

In 3D printing, sustainability can be achieved by improved material quality, the longevity of the materials, or reduction in the number of materials used.

Why 3D printing?

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing has an edge of perks over subtractive manufacturing. In subtractive manufacturing, most of the raw materials are need to be consumed to create a product- for example- wood is extracted to create a chair. On the contrary, the layering process of additive manufacturing has reduced the need for it. 

Instead of subtracting raw materials now, layers are added of a specific material to create the final outlook of the product. These layers can either be of plastic, resin, paper, carbon fibers, or even graphite- used as a feedstock for the process. DIY printers are launched due to it.

To better understand how practical 3D Printing can be today, let's have a look at the advantages and drawbacks of 3D Printing.

Benefits of implementing sustainable Practices

1. Less consumption of Raw material

3D printing includes less scrap waste as it does not involve molding or melting the material like subtractive manufacturing, but it precisely fabricates the item by layering. This process is cost-effective, and not many resources are required to create it, which leads to lower production costs for firms. 
In addition to that, it also reuses plastic waste to create different ranges of filaments, such as the OWA filament range to create products. Firms such as Precious Plastic have also developed environmental initiatives to recycle plastic products and reduce wastage. They have multiple centers in different cities, which works for this purpose.

2. Efficient Design Process

3D printing helps to create unique shapes and designs that cannot be achieved by the use of other manufacturing methods. The designs can be molded or attached to other objects to create different products. 

These products can be molded again to make filaments, which results in less wastage of raw materials and an efficient designing process.

Moreover,  you can also redesign your product or the part that you want to make the changes with, as it won't require the assembling of the products again, unlike in traditional manufacturing methods. This also applies in the application of faulty products.

Hence, lower wastage and cost of labor will be in the design process, making it more efficient.

3. Reduces stock and Warehouse Costs

If you have a business and a lower cost of capital, then you can produce the products in small batches instead of having a warehouse to keep your stock. 

Hence, according to the demand level, the products can be made, resulting in low shrinkage and warehousing costs.

4. Less Enviormental impact

3D printers can be easily located in your offices or smaller factories. So you don't have to create large industries for its storage facilities which involves time and cost.

Most companies have to create industries on large sites, which requires deforestation to make large spaces. 

Trees have to be cut down to create spaces for industries, but that's not the case with 3D Printing since it's more flexible.

Moreover, 3D printing also reduces carbon dioxide emissions as extensive transport systems are not required for shipping products. 

The design of the products can be shared digitally on another device, which reduces the need for transport systems. This results in less pollution and the effect of greenhouse gases.

Challenges or Drawbacks for 3D printing

1. Lack of initiatives for Recycling 3D materials

Machines that produce recycled materials are only available to some suppliers, such as the Filabots Reclaimer. Moreover, plastic filaments, such as the PLA (polylactic acid), are made from renewable resources, such as sugarcane or cornstarch remainings. 

This material can only be processed when the industry waste cannot be recycled anymore. Hence, its time consuming, and a level of expertise is required to transfer that waste into recycled material. 

Plus, there is also a shortage of these materials since the environmental impact is not generally considered by some of the firms or not paid that much attention.

Moreover, some types of plastics are not even recyclable and require special disposition machines to re-create them. Surface Problems are also created from some recycled materials. This causes problems in the defined quality of the product. 

Hence, industrywide initiatives are really important for sustainable 3D printing.

2. High Energy consumption

Many industries that use 3D printers to create their products require substantial forms of energy to maintain the high temperature of their printers. 

3D printers also use lasers which require a lot of electricity, so researchers are still confused about whether it requires more energy consumption or not. 

But the main thing is that it depends upon the technology of the 3D printers and the type of material that it uses. If a firm belongs to the automotive industry, then it will require more components to be created, and as a result, more energy will be consumed.

3. Health Hazards concerned with 3D manufacturing

According to research, breathing tiny particles of metals and other heating objects can cause serious health problems to workers, such as breathing issues. 

Its recommended for workers to take safety guidelines from the manufacturers while dealing with harmful products as it can be detrimental to their health.

Emission filters, ventilation suits, or equipment can be provided to protect workers at the workplace, but it will add to more costs for the firm. 

Automation can also be done at the post-processing stage of the printers so that the workers are not exposed to the work in the final stage.

Why sustainability in Additive Manufacturing?

The technology of Additive manufacturing has huge potential to create products in the future.

Many governments have now introduced incentives for conserving energy by rewarding companies with lower carbon footprints, grants, and tax breaks. This has led companies to become more sustainable in recent years.

As more technological advancements are taking place, more initiatives for sustainable practices will be inborn, but industries haven't advanced much yet.

In addition to it, environmental sensitivity is now becoming increasingly common among consumers when purchasing products.

 Firms that are adopting green initiatives tend to generate higher demand for their products leading to an increase in competition for other industries.

Final Thoughts

The additive industry is still in its infancy and is being differentiated from other traditional methods to develop the ones which are more efficient and cost-effective. 

Due to high competition, many industries have identified the potential of the market and are trying to build a safe environment for the manufacturing of products using sustainable initiatives.

Hence, there's huge potential for the market to adopt sustainability in the future, and most companies do need to realize that to generate higher profits. 

But advancement is still required in this industry for it to flourish in the future.

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