Sunday, December 7, 2014

3D Printing and Ecology: Pt 2 - Minimizing Manufacturing Waste

3D Printing and Ecology: Pt 2 - Minimizing Manufacturing Waste
            The environmental impact 3D printing produces depend on multiple factors. The first impact is electricity needed to run the printers, in which case is a functional assessment of time. Time reduction in production decreases the “eco-impacts” the machines generate. But there is a variation of output/input in a mass-use factor that is determined by energy use vs. waste. Milling machines rate higher on lower energy consumption, however, they have a high waste factor that cannot compete with 3D printing.
A specific example in reduction in waste benefits generated by 3D printing, CSIRO’s titanium technologies research, where fish tracking tags are printed instead of the previous use of milled and machined solid metals. This method has reduced manufacturing waste by 90% when printing tags, because of the energy consumption and waste that is generated from processing titanium. Furthermore, there is an argument whether there is a reduction in eco-impact via transport of goods, where printed materials reduce transport costs and emissions. However, Tim Grant, Director of Life Cycle Strategies Pty Ltd, argues that things made locally has little significance in transport factors, and that using materials for print still factor into transport and manufacturing costs.
             Another and greater factor is toxicity and pollution. In a test, performed by UC Berkeley’s mechanical engineering department, various impacts such as CO2, NO ppm of particulate matter and material waste were measured to determine the extent of the environmental detriments produced by FDM and Inkjet types of print machines. The FDM machine produced minimal waste provided support material avoided during printing. The Inkjet 3D printer wasted an average of 40% of the material, which post-production is unusable and unrecyclable. Furthermore, the FDM machine has the ability to produce prints that can be hollow, requiring minimal internal support thus using less material whereas the Inkjet machine does not possess the hollowing capability. In addition to waste, the inkjet machine uses UV light to cure prints, produces more emission than that of the FDM machine, also resulting in higher energy use to produce prints. As a result FDM type printers held significantly less ecological impacts than conventional methods of printing, making them the more “green” machines.
For further interest in 3D printing and machines visit for more information about builds and available products.
Adam Morales

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