3D printers are machines that can be used to produce any kind of plastic object by following instructions from a computer. 3D printing is an additive process. So instead of cutting off material from a stock in processes like milling, grinding and turning, the object is produced by adding the precise amount of material required. The stock material used for 3D printing looks like long thin strings of plastic. This cuts out the waste that is associated with traditional manufacturing and has given birth to the concept of “green” 3D printing.
A study carried out by Joshua Pearce of the Michigan Technological University shows that 3D printing is environment-friendly, saves production cost and can be a foundation for several new businesses. Here are some of the factors that are propelling the “Green” 3-D printing revolution.
The Choice of Objects to Produce
3D printing is an excellent energy-efficient alternative to mass production for certain types of plastic objects. Most consumers will be able to use low-end 3D printing to make intricate objects like children’s toys; kitchen utensils like orange juicers; and garden implements like water spouts. Schools can also use these 3D printing machines to produce models and objects that aid teaching and learning.
Absence of Transportation
Using three dimensional printing saves transportation costs and reduces carbon emissions from planes, trains, trucks and cars. Since most of the items that 3D printers will produce are usually shipped in from China, manufacturing them at home or at a local 3D print shop will have significant impact on the environment.
Eco-friendly Raw Materials
There is a common belief that plastic is not “green” material. But the material used for 3D printers is an organic polymer called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is derived from corn so it is both recyclable and biodegradable. Therefore as more people start to use 3D printing, we are going have more direct recycling that will turn plastic objects into long strings that can be fed back into 3D printers. This will eventually make household recycling more environmentally friendly than state or city-wide recycling programs.
3D Printers are Energy Efficient
Joshua Pearce’s study showed that low-end 3D printers use very little power to function. They draw almost the same amount of power as a laptop. For example, an orange juicer cost just about 1 KWh to produce. And this equates to just a few cents of electricity. This is less than half of the energy that will be used when using a conventional manufacturing system.
In fact, this lower power consumption gives us an opportunity to use eco-friendly solar power for 3D printers. A very small solar panel will provide enough power for household users to be able to produce several objects with electricity generated from the sun.
Potential for the Future
3D printing will cut the cost of producing certain household items, medical instruments and scientific equipment by more than 50% in the near future. Printer spare parts suppliers from Artonery think that it will also create several new jobs, as people will start to open 3D printing shops and produce objects that people want and need.