How one process may single-handedly solve some of society’s greatest problems.
Our previous installment discussed how 3D printing is having a significant impact on education, healthcare, and humanitarian relief. Continuing on, let’s examine how the process is helping to reduce pollution, as well as to protect soldiers and civilians from explosives.
Shipping and logistics
Part 1 detailed how 3D printing will reduce the shipping and logistics of pills and humanitarian relief, but this trend looks like it is going to become a lot bigger. Ing, the bank and financial service corporation, predicts that printing could cut trade between countries by 40%: “For now it has very little effect on cross-border trade. This will change once high speed 3D printing makes mass production with 3D printers economically viable. The first technical steps have already been taken…3D printers use far less labor, reducing the need to import intermediate and final goods from low wage countries.”
How one process may single-handedly solve some of society’s greatest problems.
What are some of the world’s biggest problems? Education, healthcare, natural disasters…the list goes on. One thing they all have in common is that many researchers, companies, non-profits, and everyday people are helping to solve them with 3D printing. Let’s walk through some of the ways this innovative process is saving the world.
More and more people seem to be asking about what’s happening to jobs and industry in the United States. As of January 2015, the U.S. as a nation ranked 27th in math and 20th in science, according to a Pew Research Center study on education. How are we going to stay on the cutting edge while our education is not keeping up with the rest of the world? In order to fix a problem, we must first admit we have one. Second, we must ask, what are we going to do about it?
As a bourgeoning technology with a world of potential, 3D printing is regularly referred to as the manufacturing technology of the future, and is hailed as having many environmental benefits over existing mass production processes.
And while some of its environmental advantages are difficult to deny—3D printing has, after all, opened up unprecedented possibilities for customized, local production—a new series of articles published in Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology suggest that the sustainable potential and environmental impact of 3D printing technologies are not quite as defined as many companies would like consumers to believe.
The use of recycled materials together with the mass customization and faster end-to-end cycle times that 3D printing enables promise to advance the incidence of the circular economy.
When it comes to 3D printing materials, you won’t come across a more popular choice than plastic – there are all sorts of plastics to choose from, and it’s also the cheapest of the 3D printing materials. However, plastic definitely has its issues – landfills around the world are filling up with plastics, and the material is depleting fossil feedstocks, as well as forming CO2 in production and combustion processes. A team of researchers with the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) in Moscow have developed a 3D printable polymer made entirely from biomass that negates these issues.
Additive manufacturing processes are typically better for the environment than other forms of manufacturing, but plastic waste is still a worldwide issue. Plastics are made up of a range of synthetic, or semi-synthetic, malleable organic materials, and many efforts have been made to use recycled plastic to 3D print objects like prosthetics, leaves that make up a floating Christmas tree, bee boxes, and supplies for astronauts in space.
A Belgian start-up has been using 3D-printing technology to turn old plastic into sunglasses.
Car dashboards, plastic bottles and fridges, once set for the rubbish bin, are collected and given a new lease of life.
Only two small soda bottles are enough to make a pair.
The production process involves shredding the plastic and turning them into strings. These plastic wires are then fed into the 3D-printer, where they are melted and layered into the design.
Each part of the frame is printed separately and assembled by hand.
Founder Sebastiaan de Neubourg explained that one of the project’s aims is to help rebrand sustainability into a more approachable and “cool” term, while bringing awareness to the amount of plastic being wasted globally.
Robust and refrigerator-like, the ‘Refabricator’ is poised to lead NASA’s recycling initiative for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Set to launch 2018, the machine is capable of crunching plastic parts back into raw materials, and 3D printing them anew as tools and spare parts.
Preparing for “space at a premium”
NASA has awarded approximately $750,000 to the Refabricator project, taken on by Seattle-based space technology company, Tethers Unlimited Inc.
Niki Werkheiser, manager of In-Space Manufacturing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center who will test the machine, comments “When we begin launching humans to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, space will be at a premium.”
“It simply won’t be feasible to send along replacement parts or tools for everything on the spacecraft, and resupplying from Earth is cost and time prohibitive. The Refabricator will be key in demonstrating a sustainable logistics model to fabricate, recycle, and reuse parts and waste materials.”
Al Gore’s new “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” has him haranguing leaders who resist the Paris climate accords. Without stringent controls, he says, corporate greed will spew out carbon emissions and destroy the ecosystem. The only path to a sustainable world, he insists, lies in stepped-up government action.
That’s questionable on its face, partly because many companies have pledged to reduce emissions regardless of regulation. But the more important story is that new digital manufacturing technologies are going to substantially reduce pollution as a matter of course, whether companies wish it or not.
At the center of these technologies is 3D printing, which uses digital files to drive smaller, more flexible production lines than are economical with conventional manufacturing. 3D printing is still developing and is only now spreading to mass production. But in the next five to 10 years it should account for a sizable share of industry. As it matures, it will improve companies’ environmental performance in multiple ways.
George Brasher, MD of HP UK & Ireland, explains why 3D printing has the potential to significantly reduce the waste and emissions of manufacturing.
We are on the brink of a 3D printing revolution as it is fast shifting from being used for niche applications, such as developing prototypes or creating specialist parts, into the mainstream. According to PwC, 67 per cent of manufacturers are already using 3D printing in their production systems and this is set to grow exponentially with the global value of this technology predicted to reach $31.20bn by 2022.
This transformation in manufacturing brings with it many opportunities to develop a more sustainable model, by helping to reduce CO2 emissions, cut waste and allow businesses to develop more efficient processes and supply chains.
A great initiative: transform municipal waste plastic into plastic filament for use in 3D printing! It lowers the cost of manufacture and brings designs and capability to where it can be of most value.
While 3D printing is undoubted entering mainstream manufacture – and at rates that are faster than many realise – it is important to note that there continue to be challenges to be overcome. This isn’t a surprise, after all all disruptive technologies do. This article from Apple Rubber discusses some of the key ones.
According to Wohlers Associates, the global 3D printing market is expected to reach $21 billion by 2020 — quadrupling its size in just four years. While 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, comes with many benefits, such as freedom of design, easy prototyping, customization and streamlined logistics, it also poses many challenges.
In order to fully leverage this transformational technology, we identified five 3D printing challenges that manufacturing leaders must understand.