With social consciousness around sustainability rising, consumers are actively trying to find additional, innovative ways to live more environmentally conscious lives. It is important for manufacturers to follow and react to this trend in order to retain customers and be at the front of sustainable consumers’ minds.
3D printing is one technology that is beginning to position itself as a sustainable solution in many aspects of our day-to-day lives, as the technology is a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional subtractive manufacturing methods. It uses fewer mineral resources and produces significantly less wastewater, products can be made with biodegradable materials, and it also reduces any excess materials by building onto materials rather than removing from them. This also means that production can be tailor made to match the real needs of the consumer, rather than being produced in big batches because need to compensate moulding cost as per traditional manufacturing. So how is this being used in our daily lives to help consumers be more sustainably-minded?
Every day products
With the UK already implementing a charge on single-use plastic bags and many coffee chains putting a charge on disposable coffee cups, sustainability is firmly on the public’s mind and many companies are responding by creating more sustainable products. In addition, there are lots of 3D printed components that make up larger devices and machines. This makes the parts easier and more environmentally sustainable to change as they can be printed to order. We might not see these parts, but they are everywhere. Ikea also uses 3D printing for many of its flat pack products and most automotive brands use 3D printed parts in their vehicles already too. Computers, TVs, and other home electricals also use 3D printed parts.
In recent years, the capability of 3D printing has also been used to build houses. In fact, in July 2018, French family, the Ramdanis, became the first family in the world to move into a 3D printed home. For construction companies, 3D printing is a more sustainable alternative as it helps reduce the waste associated with traditional building and can also be used to produce houses out of sustainable, biodegradable materials. As an added benefit, 3D printing can also reduce the cost of building houses, which in turn makes them cheaper for the consumer too. The use of this technology is not only to make things cheaper, but it also creates opportunities for architects and builders that are more difficult in traditional projects, such as a simpler way to construct curved walls whilst also drastically reducing the production time. The Ramdanis’ house was constructed in just 54 hours!
What we wear
3D printing is beginning to take the fashion world by storm too, removing some of the traditional boundaries to design and giving designers the opportunity to bring revolutionary ideas to life. It also helps manufacturers eliminate the ‘bullwhip effect’ whereby they incorrectly forecast customer demand and create products in relation to this, resulting in a lot of unwanted, unsellable stock that could end up in landfill and that has created emissions during its production. This process can be used for clothing, footwear and jewellery.
With the help of technology, 3D printing has advanced from just using PLA plastics in production to instead having many compatible materials such as thermoplastics, metal, carbon fibre and anti-bacterial plastic. While PLA, one of the two main plastics used in 3D printing, is made with corn and is already a renewable, non-toxic choice for manufacturers, some of these other materials, including thermoplastic, can also be recycled, making them attractive to people wanting to live more sustainably.
These examples are just a few of the many possibilities that 3D printed products are enabling. As the technology becomes more mainstream and increases in its user adoption, 3D printing will continue to change the way we live and help consumers and manufacturers alike to find new ways to manufacture and use more sustainable products.