Since its inception, 3D printing has been heralded as a technology that promotes smart, sustainable manufacturing. Many people consider it a less wasteful process and more impactful in resource use. However, the questions that remain open are where 3D printing stands on the world’s green scale and whether it’s indeed environmentally friendly as it’s praised to be. In this article, we seek to explore whether it is eco-friendly and why.
What Is 3D Printing?
Known by another name as additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves creating layer-by-layer three-dimensional objects using computer-created design to produce finished products. The finished product can be seen to have a thinly sliced cross-section, which is a representation of the layers. This technology is different from traditional subtractive manufacturing, in which the final product is a by-product of a larger material whittled down.
It’s also why 3D printing is fronted as using less material and limiting resource waste. This makes it a seemingly eco-friendlier manufacturing option for companies that want to balance opportunity and impact with green tech investments.
What Is 3D Printing Used for?
Initially, designers used 3D printers to create prototypes and product models, but now technology is increasingly used to make final products. In the last decade, the world has stressed the many possibilities humans can achieve by adopting 3D printing in manufacturing technology, medicine, architecture, design, and art. Its applications can vary from fully functional products to purely aesthetic ones.
Among the manufacturing items that can be made with 3D printing technology are furniture, shoe designs, wax castings for jewelry, toys, tripods, and more. Medical technicians and physicians can use 3D printing and materials to make prosthetics, nose grafts, hearing aids, or 3D printing clear aligners for artificial teeth. To prepare for surgery, physicians can also replicate models of tumors, organs, and other internal body structures from CT scans.
The aviation and automotive industries have used 3D printing technology to make parts, while artists can use it to create sculptures, and architects use it to fabricate project models. These are just a few examples of 3D printing in use, but there’s a wider scope of its usage and applications while some are still on trial.
Is 3D Printing Eco-Friendly?
3D printing isn’t fully eco-friendly, but it has a better chance of environmental conservation than traditional technology. It offers sustainable manufacturing: 3D printing is a sustainable technology based on two things: it creates less waste and facilitates more efficient designs. Being design efficient means using modern design practices, such as topology optimization, to create lightweight, more efficient designs or parts. If the designs are manufactured, industries will use less energy resulting in fuel economy. Being less resource-wasteful compared to traditional technologies means 3D printing gives manufacturers an edge in resource conservation as defined in eco-friendly practices. Bonding thin layers of manufacturing or project material, each forming part of the final product, ensures that no material goes to waste. 3D printing technology also allows the use of recycled material in manufacturing.
As the need for sustainability increasingly becomes an important factor for design and manufacturing, 3D printing gains more momentum in various industries. Facilitating efficient designs, allowing recycled materials, and reducing waste help organizations improve their efficiency. It also improves the world’s environmental sustainability and facilitates the company’s brand image growth.