The Advocate - Hepburn

5 ways 3D printing promotes environmental sustainability

Photo by Shutterstock.
Photo by Shutterstock.

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In the collective pursuit of sustainability and environmental stewardship, there's a universal acknowledgment-from governments to trade associations and even to consumers alike-that addressing industrial issues like waste, pollution, and excessive energy and raw material consumption is imperative.

This shift, which a 3D construction company fully embodies and promotes, holds the promise of minimising raw material usage while concurrently decreasing waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.

No matter what industry you're operating in, whether it be construction or even manufacturing, industrial design, aerospace, or healthcare, integrating 3D printing into your business can be a significant stride towards boosting the environmental awareness of your enterprise and perhaps even integrating sustainable practices.

One notable sustainability advantage of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is in its process of material addition rather than subtraction.

Unlike traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, which require substantial raw materials upfront and result in considerable waste, 3D printing involves adding material to form various components.

Below, are some of the other notable environmental and ecological advantages of utilising 3D printing technology over traditional manufacturing and production processes.

Five ways 3D printing promotes environmental sustainability

1. Enhanced design efficiency

3D printing allows for the creation of parts with intricate shapes and features that are often unattainable through conventional manufacturing methods.

For production facilities tasked with manufacturing parts that are usually smaller, 3D printing practices have proven themselves to be more efficient both with regards to production speeds as well as resource consumption.

Complex assemblies and intricate components, like fuel injectors, can be printed as single pieces, reducing waste and energy consumption across various industries.

In other words, adopting 3D printing processes will allow manufacturing plants to utilise less raw materials.

The opportunity to optimise resource consumption may even allow manufacturers to boost their production yield per square metre of their raw materials.

Ultimately, manufacturing plants have the opportunity to streamline production costs both with regards to materials consumption as well as their production output per material load.

2. Reduced raw material consumption

On the topic of material consumption, unlike traditional manufacturing techniques that involve carving out parts from blocks of material or moulding molten material, 3D printing precisely places material only where needed.

This means that leftover materials from one print can be directly used for subsequent prints, and unusable waste is recyclable.

This innovative approach to materials consumption results in a significant reduction in raw material usage.

Whilst this is particularly beneficial to industries that are reliant on their processing of costly metals like titanium, the opportunity to save on material consumption can also greatly benefit small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs.

In this regard, 3D printing production processes are levelling the playing field by allowing smaller manufacturing plants to maintain robust and efficient production processes with minimal warehousing.

3. Compact and quieter facilities

And speaking of minimal warehousing, another key benefit of 3D printing in contrast to other manufacturing technologies is that it consolidates multiple manufacturing functions into a single, highly automated process.

This results in less intricate machinery which not only means a reduced risk of operational issues, but also smaller factory footprints and reduced emissions.

The ability to manage a full manufacturing plant and intricate production processes using just 1-2 machines rather than a dozen or so specialised machines means that 3D printing companies can enjoy both a more streamlined production process that's less likely to experience delays caused by machine breakdowns, and manufacturing plants that are compact and far quieter.

The lack of noise pollution and reduced cabling or wiring makes 3D printing plants a far safer work environment than other traditional manufacturing and fabrication plants.

The minimal space required for 3D printing machines in contrast to larger manufacturing and factory machinery also allows 3D printing facilities to be located closer to urban centres or points of need, minimising transportation-related environmental impacts.

4. Repairability and spare parts

There's plenty of evidence to support the statement that 3D printing production processes can actually help prolong the usable lifespan and reduce repair costs for other manufacturing and fabrication machinery.

This is because 3D printing technology enables the rapid and cost-effective production of repair parts for unique or obsolete equipment, prolonging the lifespan of this machinery and reducing the demand for new parts.

Military applications, for instance, utilise 3D printing to extend the usability of ageing vehicles. Certain metal additive manufacturing technologies facilitate the repair of worn-out metal parts, saving resources and costs.

3D printing effectively fills in the gaps in global parts manufacturing, ensuring that consumers and businesses operating across virtually all industries can extend the usable lifespan of all their essential and heavy-duty equipment.

5. Localised manufacturing

Small businesses and large enterprises alike can leverage 3D printing to manufacture parts and products locally, minimising environmental impact from transportation.

For instance, companies wanting to use artificial reef design need not fly in all the parts that would have to also be transported by boats, trains, and cars halfway across the world.

Now, with 3D printing technology, Australian conservation initiatives can produce their own ecological solutions, allowing for faster project completion and reduced carbon emissions generated by transportation of those components.

And naturally, conservation isn't the only context that can benefit from localised manufacturing either.

Once again, the ability to maintain more local production processes can help cut transportation emissions and reduce manufacturing costs across all Australian industries.

Unlocking the circular economy potential of 3D printing

Resource consumption and carbon emissions have both been prominent hurdles in Australia's efforts for boosting sustainability across all industries.

Thankfully, the widespread adoption of 3D printing technologies has seen a decrease in emissions recorded across Australia's manufacturing sector.

This decrease in emissions has also rippled outwards to other industries, with all sectors benefiting from the reduced costs and increased availability of vital products like spare parts.

As 3D printing processes continue to be utilised by more manufacturers, it's highly likely that Australian industries will continue to reap the benefits outlined above.