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.
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:
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.
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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