Sustainability in 3D Printing

From kids toys to vehicle parts, 3D printing is set to revolutionise the world of manufacturing, giving consumers the chance to create the products they need from the comfort of their own homes. But in a world where resources are rapidly running out, just how sustainable is 3D printing?

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Environmental benefits of 3D printing

On the whole, enterprises have been enthusiastic about the environmental benefits of 3D printing, which essentially allows goods to be produced and sold close to their point of consumption. Consumers have also shown they’re keen to embrace the more ‘local’ way of life that is part of the additive manufacturing concept.

Whilst 3D printing has the potential to help businesses cut down on fuel emissions through the reduced transportation of products, calling 3D printing ‘the new green credential for businesses’ may be a step too far.

The fact is, that even with all of these benefits (which no one can deny are amazing), 3D printing still isn’t perfect. A lot needs to be done to reduce the emissions created by 3D printers, in order for it to be truly environmentally friendly.

Seeking environmentally friendly alternatives

The thing that stops additive manufacturing from being truly sustainable is the material used to create the 3D printed products. Rather than using resins and other materials that contain potentially harmful chemicals, we need to invest in eco-friendly alternatives.

This is likely to be something that comes in the next few years, as demand for environmentally friendly 3D printing grows.

Reducing the reliance on plastic

There’s no doubt about the fact consumers will love having a 3D printer in their homes. It will enable them to print out the products they need on demand, without having to take time out of their day to nip to the shops.

The problem is that many of the products created within the home using 3D printing technology will be made from plastic. And whilst recyclable, plastic is still detrimental to the environment.

Experimenting with alternative materials

Recently there have been a number of exciting developments, which suggest we’re getting a step closer to environmentally friendly 3D printing. These developments include an experiment at the Pennsylvania State University, which is looking to make 3D printable thermoplastic derived from squid DNA. In France, researchers are also looking into Seaweed Filament as a substance for 3D printing.

3d printing material use

3D printing has the potential to achieve sustainability with the right materials.

Still a long way to go…

Whilst no one can deny the benefits of 3D printing and its potential to revolutionise the world, there’s still a way to go before it can be truly sustainable. Although having a 3D printer in every home would be great, holding out for eco-friendly 3D printing materials, is something our future-selves are likely to thank us for in years to come.

Contact us here at SPI Lasers to discuss your metal based 3D printing projects. With a wealth of vital Fiber Laser experience we will be able to assist you in finding the right tool for the job.

Image credits: kakissel and Bethan

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