• http://www.dimensionext.co.uk/ Shane Taylor

    Great article.

    A small scale loose analogy: A person making an eco-home using LAYBRICK filament (or equiv) bricks 3D printed using a Gigabot (or equiv), the Gigabot powered by a solar panel and mini wind turbine on site.

    Self-contained off-grid renewable energy systems + home 3D printing are a powerful combination.

    Whilst quantitatively disparate, many a lesson in efficiency from such a small scale example may be observed?

  • Kevin Quigley

    I would be interested to know if the UK energy study considered impact of recycling or reuse of metal during non AM processes? Whilst AM allows potential material savings it is not actually waste free, and the problem is that a lot of waste AM material is not recyclable.

    In non AM metal production processes the metal scrap can often be easily recycled, and indeed, there is a whole industry set up to enable his. Many raw material suppliers deliver stock material and collect scrap for recycling. With plastics the situation is even more simple as most moulders reprocess scrap material from sprues and set up parts internally and use it either as a mix with virgin resin or for products where using virgin resin is not required.

    Then there are production processes that result in very little waste like wire forming, tube manipulation etc. So yes, AM can save material, but so can traditional processes..

    • econolyst

      Kevin – as part of the UK study please let me comment. we did of course model waste – but only in terms of the additional material needed to enable the supply chain and the energy needed to consolidate it into waste (supports), we also factored in loses in AM production and also losses in terms of getting suitable powder in the first place. However, we didn’t model the recycling or reuse as in a full Life cycle analysis, this would be double counting. You only measure the embodied energy of the input stock which may or may not already contain recycled content

  • Nightfalcon

    Thx Michael that you brought forward an important matter: sustainability of 3D Printing.

    I like to add a question which should be discussed too:

    What will be the impact on efficiency and sustainability if a society would change from
    mass production at one spot to decentralized – sometimes called “democratic” – one piece production at 1000 spots? Do we loose for such a scenario sustainability = efficiency/economy of scale?

    I also share the view of Kevin Quigley. Recycling is a thing that need to be considered, too.

    My personal opinion: I doubt that “printing at home” by concept has a sustainable lowerCO2/waste footprint, at least if you include waste handling. But I would be happy if someone could proof the opposite.

  • Hank

    I saw a talk at the MRS conference by Kreiger at MTU who have already done some of these environmental life cycle analysis on the RepRap 3D printer and found in general lower CO2 emissions for “distributed manufacturing” – sometimes substantial from both printing and even more so from using recyclebot technology in the home. Big savings on both manufacturing because of partial fill printing and slashing transportation energy if you manufacture at home.

    See conference papers here:



  • Lee Roy

    The way I see it one of the greatest gains is the ability to produce tailor-made objects. Customizability is THE strength of 3D printing. And custom things are uniquely positioned to solve people’s problems in an optimal way, leading to less waste. Integrating this technological aspect into culture could translate into a world of material minimalism, a world of less silly gifts, gadgets and mountains of barely functional myeah-but-mno things, an alternative to the business-as-usual script of a tsunami of bad goods built for planned obsolescence. Instead it would be “print it for life”, or at least “make it do with more than Krazy Glue”.

    This is the promise of 3D printing for me, and it has yet to be realized at this point, but there ARE promising offshoots springing up.

    Online collaboration on open-source models and frameworks is key, and so is carefully considered software for expressively tweaking models. Ideally I’d like to see libraries of open source appliances, broken down into modules, standardised for interoperability.

    And of course the single most important overriding wish is for technologists to wake up and get with the program on the fatal crises of industrial civilisation, get a realistic model of the mess we’re actually in and purge their cornucopian fantasies about utopian tech.

    Devote yourself to appropriate technology, strive to come up with solutions to important problems that will actually help people further along the arc of collapse. I tentatively call it Descent-friendly Design.