Environmental Impacts of 3D Printing

Association of Construction & Development
December 20, 2013 — 1,751 views  

3D printing has changed the whole system of manufacturing for the better.  Plus it is also being considered to be a lot more of an energy efficient option. A recent survey has just backed this statement as it has proved that using a 3D printer in the home helps as it uses less energy. Due to less energy consumption, it also produces less carbon dioxide when compared to its use in foreign factories for producing the items and then getting them shipped from these countries. This study was directed by Joshua Pearce who is an associate professor at Michigan Technological University.

What Does the Study Say?

His team used three products to conduct a life-cycle impact analysis. These three items were a children’s building block, an orange juicer, and a waterspout. This energy use analysis took into consideration the raw material extraction of the items. It compared the difference between getting the item imported in the country from any oversees manufacturer and printing it at home itself with a 3D printer.

Producing items with basic 3D printer required around 40 to 60 percent lesser energy as compared to producing them in factories and getting them shipped. The study also revealed that some of the most basic savings come from less usage of raw materials. Pearce mentioned that children’s blocks are usually made from plastic or solid wood. When 3D printing technology is used for making these blocks, less plastic is required as the blocks can be left completely or partially hollow.

Plastic Filaments Used for Analysis

Pearce and his team conducted the analysis using two common kinds of plastic filaments that are used in 3D printing. These filaments also included polylactic acid (PLA) which is produced from renewable sources like cornstarch. This makes it a much greener alternative as compared to the use of petroleum based plastic.

Apart from that the team also performed separate examination of products made from 3D printers that used solar power. This drove down impact of these printers on the environment even further.

According to their report, this study was based on just a few products. Future work in this matter is quite essential for quantifying the emissions and CEDs of conventional versus distributed manufacturing of many other kinds of products. The study also did not take into consideration the environmental impact of waste plastic materials. An ideal study will be the one that completely analyzes both distributed and conventional manufacturing which would also include packaging, infrastructure and transportation.

Association of Construction & Development