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Sustainable manufacturing: What about 3D printing?


Nowadays, operating a company based on ethical environmental principles is more important in the eyes of investors, authorities, clients, and the communities where you operate. Sustainability is now becoming a crucial goal for businesses, both in their strategy and daily operations. Manufacturers have to adopt sustainable business practices, boost development and their worldwide competitiveness all at the same time. Businesses still have to produce goods while preserving energy and other resources. 

The manufacturing industry is definitely changing, trying to be more sustainable, but also implementing innovative manufacturing technologies. We can see year after year that additive manufacturing is becoming a real alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques such as injection molding. But is 3D printing a sustainable manufacturing technology? What improvements still need to be made?

What is sustainable manufacturing?

There are no doubts about it, manufacturers can no longer limit sustainability to aspirational aims listed in their annual reports, whether it’s in reaction to stakeholder demands, legislative regulations, or a concern for the environment. We are all about to play a role and face these new challenges, and there is no exception for businesses.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s definition of sustainable manufacturing is: “the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers and are economically sound.”

Here is what is meant when we are talking about sustainable manufacturing: :

  • Preventing damage to the local ecosystem
  • Lowering emissions and pollutants
  • Minimizing resource and raw material waste
  • Lowering utilization of finite resources like water, energy, and other things
  • Enhancing the safety of local communities and workers
3D printing sustainability

Can manufacturing become safer for the environment?

Yes, manufacturing can become safer for the environment, but businesses has to change their habit and look for greener manufacturing processes. They can turn to streamlined procedures to reduce harmful environmental effects. In a nutshell: energy and natural resource conservation, assembly, repairability, and disassembly enhancement, and industrial symbiosis. Following sustainability initiatives does not only benefit the environment but the people who work and do business with the company engaging in the “green” practice.

Is 3D printing a sustainable manufacturing technology?

Views about 3D printing

Along with the State of 3D Printing 2022, Sculpteo conducted a study to get a better understanding of point of view of 3D printing users about 3D printing and sustainability

  • 81% of the respondents have goals in terms of sustainability, establishing that a significant majority of companies are determined to improve their processes and are ready to take action.
  • 59% think that a more prominent offer regarding sustainable materials could improve the sustainable development of 3D printing.
  • 61% find that on-demand manufacturing is a sustainable advantage.

Get our complete study, to understand the point of view and needs of 3D printing users regarding sustainability.

What are the sustainable advantages of 3D printing?

  • Freedom of design

A product that couldn’t previously be produced can now be designed with the freedom provided by 3D printing. The emphasis switches from creating a part that can be produced to creating a part that can be printed and is sustainable within that. The design procedure allows for the addition of lattice structures or the removal of unnecessary material from the model.
Freedom of Design can also allow for designing integrated parts, allowing to skip most of these steps by directly printing the needed part in one go, saving material, time, and money in the process. 

Additive manufacturing is also a way to avoid stocking problems and overproduction. Businesses are often owning huge inventory warehouses, where spare and overproduced parts are stored. The physical inventory obviously costs money for energy, labor, and so on. Moreover, depending on how long the parts are kept there, they may deteriorate or/and no longer be usable which result into a waste of both material and energy.
Additive manufacturing offers a solution to this problem: digital inventory, or on-demand production. If a part is needed, it can simply be printed on demand and then sent to the customer. This does not only help to fight overproduction nowadays but also is exceptionally cost-effective and more efficient. 

  • Spare parts and repair 

One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is mass customization and the possibility to create spare parts quite easily. Indeed, mass customization is ideal when a manufacturer needs to find parts that are no longer produced. The create of spare parts with additive manufacturing can be included in home appliances production, automobile restoration, or even for tooling and any kind of machine.
With this practice, fewer products have to be disposed of. And less raw material has to be used to produce brand new product.

  • Bio-based and renewable materials

The ultimate goal of the 3D printing industry in terms of material would be to create an even larger offer of renewable materials.
HP PA11 or Ultrasint® PA11 are the most reliable solutions for your industrial projects. PA11 is a bio-derived powder with exceptionally high toughness. This material has the particularity of offering high ductility and impact strength for all applications. If you need durable parts able to withstand high mechanical loads and stress, then PA11 is a great option.
PA11 is based on 100% renewable biomass sources. The Castor seed is extracted from the castor plant to make oil. The oil is then converted into the monomer (11-aminoundecanoic acid), which is finally polymerized into Polyamide 11.

Get an instant SLS 3D printing quote for your PA11 project right now.


What is the future of 3D printing in terms of sustainability?

As an online 3D printing service, we see it every day: 3D printing users are looking for more renewable and bio-based 3D printing materials.

As we saw in our study, a significant concern is also creating additional recycling solutions for 3D printed end-of-life parts. Even though the majority of the polymers used in 3D printing (powder and filaments) are thermoplastics and hence recyclable, their likelihood of being recycled after their useful lifetimes appears to be uncertain. Actors of the 3D printing industry still have to think and deploy effective recycling solutions. 

These two essential aspects are followed by the reusability of technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering. For example, only around 40% of the powder can be reused from one batch to another on certain SLS materials. This is another improvement that needs to be made. 

3D printing factory

Choosing Sculpteo as a reliable manufacturing partner

Additive Manufacturing and sustainability have always gone hand in hand for us. We find it important to limit production waste and optimize the use of raw material, as it is the essence of Additive Manufacturing. With these foundations, Sculpteo was built, and so are our sustainable development policies. Check out Sculpteo’s environmental policy

You can upload your 3D model and we, as an online 3D printing service, are doing the rest and sending you your part in a few days, as soon as it is finished. 

Don’t hesitate to contact our 3D printing experts if you have any questions, they will be happy to support you.

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