Why 3D Printing is a Sustainable Solution For Your Business

Many people will argue that 3D-Printing is an environmentally friendly and sustainable manufacturing method. First, it creates less waste, uses only as much material as necessary in antithesis to traditional manufacturing, and reduces the environmental impact of transportation due to the possibility of distributed manufacturing. 

But if you crunch the numbers, you will discover that in reality, the emissions from running a laser powder bed fusion 3D printer to produce a 1 kg part is 3.5 times more than producing that same part through CNC Machining. You need to analyze the whole life cycle in order to understand the full impact of a spare part, not just the manufacturing stage. 

Is 3D-Printing the most sustainable solution for your company?

We need to examine the life cycle. Starting with raw material extraction: The energy consumed in mining titanium is 179 kwh/kg.

Now, when we are processing raw materials or feedstock, we use:

  • 9.5 kwh/kg for Titanium (AM powder) in 3D printing
  • 2.7 kwh/kg for Titanium in CNC Machining

 

Let’s compare that to the material wasted during processing to give you the full perspective on the environmental impact. 

 

  • 10-25% (near net shape and supports or unused powder)- 3D printing

  • 1600% (subtractive process scraps not always recyclable, depends on geometry)- CNC machining

This means, to produce a 1 kg complex spare part in titanium, we would need 1.17 kg of material for 3D printing compared to 16 kg of material needed for CNC machining. From material extraction to processing, excluding transportation stages, would mean about 220 kwh energy used in 3D printing and about 2907 kwh energy used for CNC machining. 

Next in our analysis is the product life cycle or, in other words, the life of the product from its inception to its disposal.

The traditional product life cycle follows the product from the material extraction, transportation, material processing, transportation, manufacturing, transportation, post-processing, distribution, use, transportation, and finally, the end of life.

However, in 3D Manufacturing, the product life cycle can be shorter and more flexible.

As mentioned earlier, the use of 3D printing allows for a shift to digital and distributed manufacturing eliminating the need for multiple transportation stages in the product life cycle and reducing the impact from transportation when needed. It also allows for extending or continuing a product’s lifecycle. The following diagram depicts Ivaldi’s product life cycle process.

Apart from the manufacturing process, the packaging and shipping are also of the utmost importance in sustainability best practices.

About 55,000 metric tons of CO2e are emitted into the atmosphere by sending online orders placed in the US each day.

Additionally, many companies fail to optimize the product to package ratio, which means right-sizing your packages and fitting your orders into packaging dimensions that are as small as possible without threatening the order’s integrity. 

The standard is to have many sizes and shapes of international freight packaging due to various transportation types. It’s important to understand that any product on an international journey will typically need to be protected from a variety of environmental conditions such as humidity, impact, shaking, heat, cold, etc. and packaging must therefore reflect this. Standard sizes and shapes for shipping containers and pallets also means fitting to a confined system. Depending on the value and importance of the product and given the possibility of more significant damage to the products, more protection may be required.

Important Facts and Numbers

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Shipping makeup 2.8% of total emissions, and international shipping emissions account for 2.4%, accordingly

There are also significant differences in emissions between different means of transportation. Let’s compare the CO2 emitted for a distance of 1km with a package that weighs 1 tonne:

  • ship: 10-40g CO2
  • airfreight: 500g CO2
  • train: 100g CO2
  • truck: 60-150g CO2

It is important to mention at this point that the amount of standard cardboard packaging that was used in the US in 2017 was equal to 1 billion trees.

As we can see in this report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total transportation energy consumption in the US in 2019 reached 28,432 trillion BTU.

So how does this compare to local manufacturing of say a 1kg part? While we are making some generalizations around type of transportation and energy source, here are our numbers:

Based on all the above data we have collected and presented to you, it is safe to say that on average, 3D Printing is the greenest solution overall despite the energy required during the manufacturing process. 

The three basic pillars of sustainability, as seen below, are represented by the 3 P’s:  People, Planet, and Profit. At Ivaldi, we are committed to transforming the supply chain through positive change. With 3D Printing and other on-demand manufacturing, there is potential to both create new, local manufacturing jobs, create more sustainable and environmentally friendly logistics and reduce transport costs while also increasing flexibility.

At Ivaldi, our expertise lies in on-demand manufacturing and digital distribution, and we are here to help more businesses find the best and most suitable solution for them.

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