Looking to the Future with Sustainability in Additive Manufacturing

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Rethinking How We View Manufacturing

Electric cars, enhanced recycling, and composting programs, concerns over-packaging, and discussions about carbon footprint are just a few examples of how sustainability has become top-of-mind.

We are learning and seeing how the impacts of our habits are impacting the environment. While we can’t turn back the clock and reset the damage, we can make changes in how we live and work to mitigate future damage.

And this is exactly where additive manufacturing comes in. Additive manufacturing processes and materials have been developing at a quickening rate for the past 30 years, and today we understand how these developments can have strong sustainability benefits.

Reduced energy costs, the reuse of powders and materials, less waste, on-demand local manufacturing and delivery, improved supply chain processes, and the opportunity to develop new business models enable stronger sustainable manufacturing practices.

What is Sustainable Additive Manufacturing?

Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of products using processes that minimize environmental impacts, save energy and natural resources, and are economically cost-effective.

Additive manufacturing is based on layer by layer fabrication, which inherently reduces material waste, allows for the design and manufacture of lighter and more efficient geometries and enables recycling of any waste into raw materials. In addition, the energy required and the improvements in the supply chain have a trickle-over effect in reducing energy demands and resource consumption.

Sustainability is an environmentally positive and often overlooked benefit of additive manufacturing.

The Sustainable Benefits of Additive Manufacturing

Companies need to understand not only the environmental impact of sustainable additive manufacturing but also the business benefits of sustainable additive manufacturing.

1. Product Redesign:

Traditional manufacturing is limited by design for manufacturing (DfM) and design for assembly (DfA). Because of this, products are not designed and manufactured using optimal geometries, and extra material is required for the casting, forming and machining processes.

With design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), this all changes. Designers can use more modern materials and processes to create complex geometric shapes and designs that are lighter and more efficient, and that support better manufacturing processes. In addition, these better-designed products and parts can have a longer shelf-life and increase customer desirability and applicability with freedom of customization.

2. Materials Processing and Reuse:

The layer-by-layer additive process means that the use of raw materials can be reduced and made more efficient. Materials are only placed where needed, removing the waste by-products typical with traditional manufacturing processes. By nature, these products and parts are lighter, resulting in improved fuel efficiencies and a reduction in carbon emissions during the production life cycle.

With new product designs and the use of new materials, any additive manufacturing by-products or waste can, for example, be recycled and reused as filler in resins or to support the development of new materials made from these by-products.

3. Supply Chain Improvements:

With better designs and the use of more efficient materials, the supply chain realizes faster production rates, fewer errors in production, better quality products, and the repeatability of design. This gives companies an advantage in being able to meet customer demand with reduced resource demands and a more cost-effective business model.

In addition, by incorporating additive manufactured components in the production process, the overall supply chain benefits from resource and operational efficiency, better functionality and durability and the easier repair of damaged parts.

4. On-demand Local Manufacturing and Delivery:

The maintenance of large inventories of legacy parts is a cost-prohibitive and an inefficient method of supporting customers. Additive manufacturing allows companies to eliminate these inventories and serve customers on an on-demand and local basis. This ability to 3D print a new part or to repair a broken part in a convenient location for the customer reduces transport costs and fueling requirements and enhances customer satisfaction.

Not to be overlooked is the ability to cost-effectively and sustainably produce low- and mid-volume batches of customized products and parts.

5. New Business Models:

The fight to stay ahead and remain relevant in the global competitive landscape is not easy for any company regardless of industry. By taking advantage of additive manufacturing capabilities, companies can rethink business models or spin-off secondary businesses.

Additive manufacturing opens opportunities for recycling, reuse, repair, and refurbishment, and remanufacture of parts, products, and materials. This gives companies the chance to extend product lifecycles and to take advantage of service-based business models, enhancing the sustainability of the original parts and material and creating stronger economic value.

Additive Manufacturing for the Future

Whether you’re manufacturing a wing-fuselage or 3D printing insoles on-demand in your local shoe store, your customers have the same questions. They want to know how and where your products are manufactured, they want less packaging and waste, and they want to know how your company is actively reducing its environmental footprint.

Contact us to learn how Jabil’s expertise in additive manufacturing and sustainability can give you the processes and technologies you need to meet customer demands.