3D Printing the Green Industrial Revolution

Going “green” is something most of us have been trying to do for a while now. Whether it’s cutting down the amount of plastic we use, recycling as much as possible, switching off the lights when we leave a room or eating less meat, there are so many ways in which we can and are doing our bit for the environment. Less topical, however, is the fact that 3D printing can lower our negative impact on the world around us.

From reducing waste production materials via additive manufacturing processes to producing lighter and more energy efficient cars, 3D printing is creating new ways in which individuals and companies can reduce their negative bearing on the planet.

In this post, we will explore just some of the pioneering and eco-friendly 3D printing practices.

3D Printed Meat

The food industry is another sector where 3D printing is helping to save the environment. Emissions from the thousands of cows being bred for meat production are more damaging to the planet than CO2 from cars, meaning that 3D printed meat could be a big talking point in the near future.

Professor Keith Belk from Colorado State University’s Center for Meat and Quality suggests that printing the accurate texture of meat is technically feasible. However, at a time when people strive for organic, or natural food products, it is questionable whether this approach would appeal to people at all. Regardless, the benefit to the environment would be significant if it became possible to consume “animal” products without raising animals.

Making Cars More Efficient

3D printing is playing an increasingly influential role in today’s car manufacturing industry. Essentially, manufacturing companies and customers want to see vehicles that are more efficient, cheaper to run and more reliable in the long term. With additive manufacturing, modern materials and innovative design, car frames are now being “printed” at a fraction of the weight of a traditional, heavier car. Companies including VW and BMW are investing in this kind of production because the lighter the vehicle, the more efficient it can run – which is great news for the environment.

3D Printed Houses

3D printed houses could potentially save time, energy and money during production, producing more eco-friendly properties in the process. It’s still the early days, but the developments in this sector are certainly ones to watch.

Using additive manufacturing three week building jobs could be cut down to 4-5 days and, with machines doing the work, there is less potential for injury. Moreover, as 3D printers don’t need to eat or sleep, they don’t stop working until the project is complete, greatly reducing time spent on particular tasks. There are fewer materials used in 3D printing generally compared to traditional manufacturing processes, reducing any environmental impact as less waste is produced.

Back in April, Arup and CLS Architects unveiled 3D Housing 05 – a new 3D printed house in central Milan – as part of the Salone del Mobile design festival. Printed on-site by a portable robot, the house demonstrated the role 3D printing can play in reducing construction waste and making houses more eco-friendly.

Guglielmo Carra, Europe Materials Consulting Lead at Arup, said: “We need to make a major shift in the way the construction industry operates, away from today’s ‘make, use, dispose’ mentality. We’ve shown with this building that 3D printing technology is now advanced enough to take on more complex structures, and design buildings to be repurposed or reused at the end of their life. This technology is critical to helping our industry become far more accurate, efficient and less wasteful. ”

Reducing the Need for Shipping

Since additive manufacturing involves a 3D printer and uploading/downloading data, it can be done anywhere in the world thanks to the Internet. You can create and print your own 3D products and parts at the touch of a button. This potentially cuts the need for international shipping on goods. Less shipping means less fuel being pumped into the atmosphere, reduced amounts of packaging that will end up in a landfill and not as much need for storage or the energy needed to maintain those facilities and the shipping containers themselves.

What’s more, it’s estimated that by 2020 up to 80% of all products will involve some kind of 3D printing in the production process, which will undoubtedly affect the global supply chain. As a lot of manufacturing becomes automated, it could reverse the trend of globalization which has benefitted shipping lines, airlines and freight forwarders – but not necessarily been brilliant for the environment.

Recording Environmental Damage and Change

3D printing is even playing a role in mapping vanishing ecosystems so that we can potentially prevent such occurrences from continuing. When natural disasters occur, accumulating debris and environmental changes negatively affect unique and precious ecosystems. It can be incredibly challenging to work out how we can combat such change and damage, but 3D printing is playing a role is this sector too.

At the University of Sydney, researchers are creating 3D versions of coral from the Great Barrier Reef, and providing a map for researchers to understand how the coral is being damaged and altered.

Final Thoughts

The average person won’t be aware of the many ways in which 3D printing is revolutionizing the way we live our lives and that it’s positively impacting the environment in the process. It’s clear that 3D printing has far more to offer the world than just simplifying production processes. It can make the world a more sustainable and therefore better place. What’s not to like?

Read more about why 3D printing might be the ideal technology to help bring your product to market faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly.