Fabaloo raised an important issue for 3D Printing a couple of days ago with its post entitled "3D Printing is a Cleantech Innovation". Outlining how the move to a personal manufacturing model in the future will greatly reduce the carbon footprint of manufactured goods — the post highlights the favourable effects of this model on the environment while acknowledging the challenges of achieving this.
The full post from Fabbaloo can be read here:
This is indeed one of the greatest potential outcomes of the transition to personal manufacturing, but it is still a way off. Looking to the future in a positive way is a good thing, anyone that read my last post will know I do it myself. But this post got me thinking about what difference 3D printing is making now in terms of sustainability and clean technology.
There are plenty of positives, particularly for industries that are currently viewed negatively for imposing high carbon footprints with their products. Additive Manufacturing processes — particularly the metal ones — can make a big difference in this area. There are many industrial applications that require the manufacture of highly engineered, low-volume parts, in the aerospace sector for example. All of the major aerospace companies are now taking additive manufacturing very seriously.
Additive Manufacturing offers them an alternative to traditional methods of manufacture for parts of this nature, providing real environmental efficiencies in terms of both the manufacturing process itself (utilising 90% of standard materials rather than machining it away) and throughout the part's operating life through lighter and stronger design.
Stronger is great, but lighter is even better. The lighter part will require less energy to become airbourne. Less energy means reduced fuel consumption and therefore reduced emissions. Over the life time of an aircraft this equates to hundreds of thousands of pounds of pounds saved in fuel, another great advantage for the airlines. Translate this to a full fleet of aircraft and it really is a no brainer. Little wonder that EADS, Rolls Royce, BAe Systems and Boeing are all so excited by this technology and pushing the boundaries at the high end of the market.
So even with one eye on the future of 3DP/AM, which is bright, there are clear environmental benefits that the technology is contributing to the world now. And more applications like this emerge all the time.