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  • Writer's pictureThe CASTOR team

Additive Manufacturing Sustainability - Can AM do Better for the Environment?

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

According to the EPA, Carbon Emissions have increased upwards of 90% since the 1970s. Following the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, companies of all sizes look to reduce their carbon footprint consistently over time, to combat the ever-growing issue of global warming. With Industrial companies accounting for nearly 54% of the world’s energy consumption, it’s something all sectors and industries are starting to think much harder about.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen initiatives at every level (national, state, etc.) to promote sustainability across nearly all industries - automotive, aerospace, machinery, and more. Whether it’s using less energy, shortening the supply chain, or just reducing waste, making products that have a less environmental impact is becoming a growing trend among all sectors across the entire globe.


Having accurate, real-time data is one of the crucial factors for decarbonization, and reducing the 1/5th of carbon emissions the manufacturing industry is responsible for. Technologies like Additive Manufacturing aim to address these issues and actually promote a greener, more sustainable means of production.

While 3D Printing is not a new concept by any means, it’s only within the last few years that its popularity and real-world use cases have begun to take off. While additive manufacturing isn’t necessarily always the most suitable option for production, there are numerous aspects throughout the product lifecycle when it can have sustainable advantages.


The key points that we'll address in this blog post emphasize what many experts refer to Additive as a “circular economy,” which is a direct benefit Additive derives throughout the product life cycle. Combine all of these elements together and you have a much leaner, refined product development process that reduces waste, and energy, and significantly reduces the iterative process that most manufacturing processes are used to.



additive manufacturing sustainability

Credit: MicroCare


Sustainability Elements of Additive Manufacturing


Less Material Waste & Scrap


Compared to older technologies such as CNC Machining, the ability to use 3D Printed metal or polymer to create an end-use component is a much more eco-conscious process compared to Subtractive Manufacturing. Now manufacturers can place (print) raw material precisely, eliminating scrap or waste you’ll typically see with leftover metal chips after a CNC batch run.

And even for the powder or filament that’s left behind, most of that can actually be recycled and reused in another batch run, All in all, Additive uses far less material than traditional technologies do, while still maintaining the same integrity of that component’s design and durability.


On-Demand Manufacturing


COVID-19 brought awareness to many industries about just how complex and lengthy it is to get from Art-to-Part. With 3D Printing and digital transformation, anyone can create something within a moment’s notice via CAD and have that functional component ready to go in a matter of hours, or days. No large upfront costs like setup time, tooling, or minimum batch quantities are tied to prototyping now, and production can be done completely on demand.

No longer do they have to sit and wait for Design to pass a drawing to Manufacturing to then be created. With lead times growing for most production shops, it only strengthens the business case for implementing Additive Manufacturing to an existing product development lifecycle.


Shortening of Supply Chain


Speaking of lead times, Additive Manufacturing is now helping to cut one’s supply chain down quite drastically. The lag between Concept to Design to Prototyping to Production is now significantly shortened thanks to the on-demand capabilities AM offers.

Additionally, even if a given company doesn’t have access to a 3D printer, the mass adoption of AM has led to some saturation. Ultimately meaning, you can still have parts produced quickly, at a fairly low cost by simply sending a 3D CAD model to a service bureau for them to produce for you.



Lower Transportation Costs

With the mass adoption of 3D Printing in most developed nations, the supply chain from Manufacturer to End-User is typically much shorter compared to conventional manufacturing. Even if a company is not producing a given component in-house, it can often outsource this production to a supplier located fairly close by.

This reduction in transportation costs translates to a more inexpensive part that emits far less CO2 compared to someone in the United States needing to have parts shipped from Asia, for example. Ultimately, companies can now source their lower volume components much closer than they used to be able to, thanks to the capabilities ushered in by Additive Manufacturing.


Direct Connection to Designing for SWaP


Size, Weight & Power are of high consideration for designers in industries such as Aerospace, Aviation, Automotive, and more. With Generative Design and the enablement for more organic geometries, Additive Manufacturing is pushing the envelope for what’s possible to be designed and manufactured. Reduction in weight correlated to more efficient use of a rocket engine, car motor, or propulsion mechanism, ultimately allowing for better fuel economy and increased performance.


Conclusion - Is AM process more sustainable?


There are many advantages to Additive Manufacturing as a sustainable production method with a low environmental impact compared to traditional manufacturing. Identifying the parts that benefit from these advantages is a challenging task, yet significant and crucial for decision-making.


In today’s marketplace, there’s a clear need to measure the “sustainability of Additive Manufacturing", and consider all of the metrics that play into its place in the global supply chain. While manufacturers look to innovate their existing processes, they need powerful analysis software packages to help them automatically calculate CO2 emissions, cost per part, material costs, and other elements that play into Additive Manufacturing, in order to optimize, increase savings and make smarter decisions that align with their sustainability goals.

Additionally, software tools can help to provide insights before production, allowing an operations team to simulate various scenarios before launching into volume production. Thus, aiding buyers, designers, and business owners in re-designing their parts to be as lightweight as possible (resulting in consuming less material), reducing their overall carbon footprint, and achieving aggressive goals and initiatives around sustainability.


Roland Berger's article - "How sustainable is AM today?" states that "a quick and easy tool or software program to predict the difference between an AM part and a conventional one with a high degree of certainty is essential. such a tool could boost the application of AM in areas where it is currently considered too expensive".


We, as well, believe that identifying the right parts that can benefit from Additive Manufacturing and reduce CO2 emissions is a game changer for those manufacturers and we are eager to share our vision and our solutions that address this challenge.


Stay tuned for future content as we take a deep dive, share our visiotn and reveal our solution for sustainable manufacturing processes.


To learn more about how CASTOR can automatically analyze your product design files to help your organization discover additive manufacturing opportunities visit www.3dcastor.com.






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