7 reasons why 3D printing is a sustainable option  

March 24, 2022
10 min

The potential for 3D printing in the healthcare and manufacturing industries is endless and a big step towards establishing a sustainable business environment. With this technology comes many environmental perks like reducing waste production or carbon footprint while also cutting down on energy and raw materials consumption – all without sacrificing quality. 

Nonetheless, it’s only worth exploring if you know what benefits will outweigh your costs. If you are still unsure about making the switch to 3D printing, here are 7 ways in which 3D printing has proven to be a sustainable option

1. It makes the design more effective 

3D printers can capture product features and shapes that have become impossible with the traditional manufacturing processes. Products that used to be made up of numerous components can now be printed as a single piece, saving time, money, and effort. 

2. Reduced raw material utilization

Some products can well elaborate the impact of 3D printing technology in terms of part consolidation and design optimization. Instead of carving a part out of a block of material or pouring molten material into a mold and creating scrap material, 3D printing effectively places the items where it’s designed to develop the required part. 

3. Spare parts & maintainability 

3D printers can come up with distinctive and cost-effective repair parts for unique or out-of-production products. Today, with a single push of a button, you can print a part that hasn’t been manufactured for a while to expand the lifespan of a specific product or create spare parts that are no longer available from the original supplier. 

4. Ensures local production of parts 

3D printers can be installed in your workplace, allowing you to produce parts, prototypes, and items locally rather than having them shipped from afar. As a result, you reduce the environmental effects of planes, ships, and vehicles for shipping. This technology also helped when the global supply chains were disrupted during the pandemic and local companies started 3D printing essential products. 

5. Reduces the inventory 

The 3D printer gives you the room to print any part either when it’s demanded or in small quantities. This will help you avoid keeping unnecessary parts and stocks in your warehouse and later dumping them as waste. 

6. Streamlines the manufacturing process 

3D printing requires fewer tools, parts, and procedures than traditional production methods, saving time, money, and energy. 3D printing is also frequently quicker. Additive manufacturing is a computer-to-part approach, which means no tooling or molds are required, and there is very little work involved in the process.  

This technology especially helps the production of orthotics and prosthetics. First, clinicians can scan a specific body part to get a clean and watertight file. Then the file can be processed and exported to create any type of model, even when patient-specific requirements need to be considered, using a single machine in the office. 

7. Smaller and quieter factories 

A single 3D printer can print a wide variety of parts, hence substituting many traditional manufacturing machines. Therefore, a single 3D printer will save a lot of space occupied by many traditional manufacturing systems and result in fewer emissions. 

When it comes to noise pollution, 3D printers are also significantly quieter than traditional manufacturing machines. 

Despite the above-mentioned sustainability elements of 3D printing, there are still a few challenges that 3D printing faces, particularly in the environmental sphere, which we will be detailed below. 

3D printing’s sustainability challenges 

1. Industry-wide recycling efforts 

Although the most often used plastic filament for 3D printing is a biodegradable polymer, it is only biodegradable after industrial processing. It cannot usually be recycled or composted at consumer centers. There are only a handful of companies that have machines that turn their own plastic prints back into filament for a second life of usage. 

2. Metal recycling

Metal powder left after the printing process can be reused in some areas, but high-tech industries discourage the recycling of the powder; hence must be dumped as waste according to hazardous waste guidelines. 

Metal powder for additive manufacturing is made by atomizing metal raw material, which is an energy-intensive process. 

3. Energy usage

3D printers that reach very high temperatures and use lasers usually require more energy consumption. However, it is split on whether additive manufacturing uses more or less energy versus traditional methods depending on the technology and material being used. 

4. Health hazards 

Breathing in tiny particles of metal powders or gasses can lead to severe health conditions. Nonetheless, it is still being debated on whether additive manufacturing poses health risks to workers, who are properly equipped with the recommended protective equipment and when printer manufacturer guidelines are being carefully followed. 

Nonetheless, 3D printing technology has a lot of potentials to grow greener over time. It is important to be aware of the challenges this industry faces, but it remains one of the most promising and sustainable options out there. With continuous advancements, this system will only get better and be more reliable in the years to come.

Have you tried using 3D printing for your business? 

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