3D Printing and Its Impact on the Environment


As the world witnesses a surge in the use of 3D printing or rapid prototyping on many fronts, it is only natural to wonder what the impacts of 3D printing are on the environment. Even though 3D printing is done from the confines of a room, the impact of 3D printing includes what is indoors and outdoors. What is the point in the world moving forward in education, technology, medicine, astronomy and so much more if we are at the of the day destroying our environment?



3D printing is said to have revolutionized and reformed manufacturing, and considering the results of 3D printing on the manufacturing industry, there can be no debate on this front! The question is, will rapid prototyping revolutionize the environmental impacts of constructing things as well?  Will it eradicate waste from the constructing process or even make it less?  Will it eradicate the shipping process?  Will it generate more problems than the ones it actually solves? Will the number of solutions it offers continue to go up?


3D printers are not essentially less in terms of being ‘wasteful,’ the waste they produce is not ineludibly recyclable; in fact, the amount of waste they generate isn’t of much importance if we compare it to the amount of electricity used in the whole process. If 3D printers helped to eliminate the process of transportation of commodities, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference either. This is because transport is only a tiny fraction of most commodities’ environmental effects. There are far greater effects or impacts that need to be considered if we look at the ecological side of things, the amount of electricity generated being on top.


When we consider mass manufacturing, 3D printers under this have a far greater impact or bearing per part of printing in comparison to the traditional methods of molding. However, this may not count as much either considering the fact that 3D printing is replacing the tiny custom runs of segments or parts that are machined from chunks of material. Occasionally we do find that 3D printers serve to be more eco-friendly in comparison to these machining processes that they are replacing. This isn’t always the case but when it is, it is worth the save.


Whether you are crushing material to be molded or you are doing 3D printing, the most critical factor in terms of the impact on the environment, is how you use the tool. There are several if not numerous opportunities for 3D printers to take advantage of, making jumps in favor of greener manufacturing.



How to Print 3D Parts More Eco-Friendly


Considering the fact that 3D printing is done mainly through the use of energy, one of the best ways to keep 3D printing eco-friendly is to cut down on the run-time.


Here are a few methods that can help with this:

  1. Stick to printing the hollow parts instead of the solid ones- the hollow forms may need support material, but this should be alright and does not necessarily entail a bad overall product. Support material can in fact print faster, and may have the extra advantage of being less lethal than model material.  You would have to check your setup in order to ensure whether or not this applies for your printer and type of materials.
  2. Position parts for the quickest printing- for this, you would have to educate yourself on the best ways to position for best end results. For example, placing a tall or loft part on its side rather than on its top or bottom might print faster, or selecting a certain placement might exclude the necessity for a lot of support material, helping to cut down on both waste and energy use.
  3. Seal the printer bed with various segments- FDM machines usually do not get any benefit out of this point, but certain inkjets that have been tested had coarsely an identical print time, whether it was printing a solo part or numerous parts, reducing its eco-impacts almost in half.  The same might apply for different kinds of printers. Users can test them out and find out for themselves.
  4. Choosing the right materials- this is important because by choosing better materials, not only are you reducing the amount of waste that will be generated, the toxic levels and energy use are also being reduced. For example, metals need extreme amounts of heat in order to melt, hence they require more energy than plastic materials. Some printers can even use wood pulp, which would use even less energy than plastics! Most 3D printers in the market used plastic but there are hundreds of varieties of energy available which can be used for 3D printing. Some of these materials include but are not limited to: plaster, starch, ceramic, wood, glass, etc.


Toxicity might not be recognizable or that obvious, but keep in mind that a 3D printer’s melting plastic vapors are inhaled by all those nearby. These fumes are extremely unhealthy. Some materials are less toxic than others and hence it is best to opt for the less toxic ones. Users can easily do a research on the materials that are considered safer through safety measures. There are uniform scales for toxicity, reactivity and flammability.  The lowest level of toxicity would be a number zero on the score level; maximum amount of plastics do have scores of one, but numerous support materials score in at zero.


The Future of 3D Printing and the Environment

With the rise of environmentalists and a whole host of engineers, doctors, astronauts and simple home users, who are slowly becoming tech-savvy enough to use 3D printing, 3D printing’s impact on the environment is likely to have less and less negatives. To say the very least, it will be interesting to actually see just how much ecofriendly 3D printing will get without losing the essence and quality of 3D printing. Only time will tell on this front.


















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