The Environmental Impact of 3D Printers

We're very excited about 3D printers. Not only are they building everything from pizza to heart models, but they could also be the future of consumer printing around the world. That being said, we have also started to wonder some of the environmental impacts these printers have. The printers are notoriously slow to make products, taking several hours even for basic objects. How does this impact environmental sustainability? We wanted to use a recent study to give you the most up-to-date information.

taken from: wikimedia

The Study Basics

The study was conducted by a Mechnical Engineering PhD candidate Jeremy Faludi at the University of California, Berkeley. The basic assumption going into the project was that because 3D printers don't have many of the same components of heavy machinery, they'd naturally be greener.

After examining the 4 main types of 3D printers, specifically inkjet printing, stereolithography (SLA), fused deposition modeling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS), all of which have their own industrial applications, Faludi arrived at several other conclusions, specifically that 3D printer might having negative environmental impacts that aren't comparable to other machines.

Inkjet 3D Printers' Impact

One of Faludi's major areas of focus was on 3D inkjet printers. Unlike standard inkjet printers, they don't use ink. Instead, they shoot out a liquid polymer (plastic) that is then cured and hardened by a special UV light. During this process, as much as 40% of the "ink" can be wasted.

As we know, many US cities, including Los Angeles, are stepping up restrictions on the use of plastic bags, so it could be interesting to see how environmental regulations may one day influence the production process for 3D printers. It's also interesting to see how, as 3D printers improve speed-wise, they could also improve by reducing the amount of waste that is produced.

High Levels of Energy Use

One of the other notable qualities of 3D printers is that they must constantly use energy in the production process. Given that even an iPhone case can take several hours to produce, some of the larger scale projects, including building furniture, can take five days or more. Imagine if you constantly operated your desktop printer for five days straight. That wouldn't be very energy efficient, would it?

At the same time, some models of 3D printers have to be plugged in and remain on, even when they're not in use. One of most widely accepted "green" basics is that turning off and unplugging household appliances and devices can save as much as 10% of energy use per month. If we are to turn to 3D printers for large scale production of consumer items, how much total energy could we be wasting?

taken from: wired


All of this is to say that while 3D printing holds a lot of promise for the future, as it gains ground in a variety of industries, it's also important for us to be mindful of how it's impacting our environment. If we don't carefully monitor the impacts, we won't be able to refine the technology, and we might reach a moment when we cannot undo the negative impacts.

Feel free to weigh in below with your thoughts on how to make 3D printing just a little bit greener!

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