Eco-Friendly 3D Printing – Is it a myth?

Sometime back everyone thought 3D Printing was a greener option compared to other traditional manufacturing technologies. However, that belief might just be too naïve. The reality is that society is becoming more matured and wiser and hence the jury is still out.


3D Printing – The Advantages

Before going to the bad news, let us first examine the potential that 3D Printing has. These include the potential to:

  • Maintain a strong base for manufacturing
  • Use raw materials efficiently
  • Develop optimally performing product parts
  • Reduce assembly-needing and short supply chain requiring product parts
  • Timely Fabrication of custom part batches near the POP or consumption

However, though 3D Printing has all these above mentioned potential that paves the way for a greener manufacturing experience, it can be safe to say that somehow it is still not there. Let us see why.


3D Printing – The Disadvantages:

Huge electrical Power Consumption

According to the Atkins Project by Loughborough University, UK, 3D-printing process is an energy hog and consumes an incredible amount of electrical energy. 3D Printers using heat or laser in plastic molding purposes use 50-100 times more electricity than injection molding.

Heavy Reliance on plastics

Another disadvantage of 3D Printing is its huge dependence on plastic which in itself is not an environment friendly aspect at all. The injection molding method of manufacturing plastic is ironically greener since it leaves behind lesser quantity of unused plastic.

Secondhand Fumes

Secondhand fumes is considered hazardous to health since it contains toxic byproducts created when plastic is heated. 3D Printing gives off a particular smell which was analyzed to see how harmful it is for living beings. The quality analysis reported that 3D Printers discharge high amounts of ultra fine particles or UFP’s which have various bad effects on human life specifically on lungs, allergic responses, heart, brain, etc.

Product Life cycle rethink:

If one thinks of the entire product life cycle or the bigger picture, there existsmany points and turnings which are not very green at all. These include environmentally devastating stages such as raw materials mining, product assembly process, constructing as well as heating and cooling retail spaces ending with the final environmental impact when the product is thrown away. Since 3D Printing is all about easy production tools, unfortunately it also has the potential to create rapid garbage generation in the future. Hence, the entire product life cycle has to be rethought in order to find a greener and cleaner way out.

It can be concluded by saying that now, while our planet is grappling to handle the sheer weight of pollution, all of us need to be wiser and necessarily more skeptical with things in order to better balance the need of the  global consumer economy vis-à-vis the environmental health. In ecological terms, 3D printing technology both gives as well as takes away from the environment.

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