This is a guest contribution by Egor Driagin, CMO at Top3DGroup
The fact that 3D printing is more environmentally friendly than mass production was a relatively recent discovery. It’s unexpected, since at first one could imagine that preparing plastics is better in one ‘pot’ than in thousands of small tubes. Nevertheless, 3D printing is less harmful to the environment than modern industrial manufacturing.
Joshua Pearce, a 3D printing enthusiast and a researcher at the Michigan Technological University, claims that not only is 3D printing less expensive but also more ecologically friendly. The study done by Pearce showed that manufacturing one object using a 3D printer results in less CO2 emissions than its industrial manufacture and transporting it to a storage.
The majority of 3D printers for home use (for example, the RepRap that was used for such research) have a size of a microwave oven. They melt thin plastic filament and “grow” a required model on a layer-by-layer basis. The objects (which vary from spoons to glasses frames) can be found online or designed in a 3D editing program.
It’s obvious that mass production requires less energy for producing a unit compared to 3D printing. But a research team led by Pearce found that it’s actually better for ecology to 3D print the objects at home.
They looked at the life cycles of three objects: a citrus juicer, a building kit for kids and a part of a drainpipe. Usually, producing such objects requires a lot of energy: getting the materials, recycling, manufacturing, delivery to the customer. 3D printing doesn’t require some of these steps: for example, there’s no need to send the product to the consumer. So producing the same object spends 41-64% of energy less compared to traditional methods. There’s also some savings of materials: 3D printing is more accurate and there’s less waste since there’s no need to throw the defective stamps or cast parts away. Moreover, some parts can be 3D printed being hollow or with a honeycomb design, while traditional production will have to make them monolithic.
Joshua Pearce concluded that 3D printing can significantly cut the effect on the environment. It requires less energy, saves a lot of material and human resources, especially without the need to send anything to the customer. For example, small household appliances can be delivered by several couriers from various online shops. In case of 3D printing there is only one thing that should be delivered: the plastic filament.
A 3D printed vase requires half the materials as a regular industrially manufactured one.