Metal additive manufacturing, otherwise known as metal 3d printing, emerged initially as an alternate way to prototype, regarded for its speed and localized convenience. The technology has advanced to produce functional parts, specifically in high-mix, low-volume applications. This advancement has made it possible for companies to keep more of their production in-house, saving them time and money. With climate change an immediate concern, it has also been begging the question: Could adopting metal additive manufacturing be more sustainable?
The short answer: Kind of.
A direct impact metal additive manufacturing has on the climate problem is a decrease in material waste when compared to traditional manufacturing methods. For example, weld spatter leftover from a completed powder-bed fusion print is far less waste than the amount created after milling the same part.
Optimizing application functions to new heights with metal 3d printing, another direct benefit of this technology. With so much design freedom, parts can be created that were virtually impossible prior. For example, in aerospace it is best to have lightweight parts to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Using additive manufacturing allows for new methods to reduce the weight such as adding internal channels or combining a multi-component part into a singular piece.
There are also indirect benefits of using additive manufacturing. The first being the ability to decentralize part production. Although some metal 3d printers use a decent amount of energy, it can still be less than the transportation to deliver an outsourced part would have exerted. By having a metal 3D printer in your production line, this virtually disappears.
Further than eliminating the transportation element by printing locally, metal 3d printing would also allow for a manufacturer to produce spare parts after they become commercially unavailable, therefore extending product lifetime, and reducing machine disposal.
There are barriers currently, one of the biggest being the price. The average price to purchase a metal 3d printer is far out of reach for many of the people and businesses who could benefit.
Xact Metal has recognized this gap and made it our mission to provide machines that fulfill the need of high-performing applications, without the high price tag.
If you’re curious about the sustainability of metal additive, dive deeper into the discussion with the following resources, which were referenced when drafting this post:
“Study of the Environmental Implications of Using Metal Powder in Additive Manufacturing and Its Handling”
“Can 3D Printing Help Metals to Go Green?”
IMTS 2022 Conference: Additive Manufacturing as a Driver of Sustainable Business Models and Applications