3D Printing’s Impact on Sustainability: Konrad Malik, Industry Insiders Comment

3D printing – what is it, who’s getting in on it, and what does it mean for consumers?

You may have heard about this modern printing technology, which is impacting everything from the military to health care to the fidget spinner craze. But do you really know what it’s all about?

3D printing is the process by which three-dimensional objects are printed from a digital, computer model, usually by laying numerous thin layers of a material down in a successive pattern. It is also called an additive manufacturing process, although the term “3D printing” is certainly more popular among the general public. And it’s changing the technology game in more ways than one.

One of 3D printing’s most exciting features is the positive impact it can have on the environment. Indeed, many experts believe that 3D printing will revolutionize sustainable design.

In traditional manufacturing, products are made in large quantities at a central facility and shipped around the world. 3D products can be made as needed — and locally, reducing the fossil fuel consumption needed to transport goods across long distances.

3D also eliminates the waste of materials and excess production in large-scale manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing products are built from the bottom up, layer by layer, only using the amount of material that’s needed.

Most 3D products are made of thermoplastics like acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). ABS isn’t all that earth-friendly, but PLA is. It’s a polymer that’s usually made from corn. Thermoplastics can be melted and reshaped into new objects, which is a much more efficient form of recycling than putting out plastic waste in bins.

The Perpetual Plastic Project uses 3D printers to recycle plastic waste into new products. Filabot, in Barre, Vermont, is reusing the plastics from failed 3D prototypes.

3D printing can significantly reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, according to a paper published in Energy Policy.

Many companies are using 3D printing technology to advance sustainability efforts. General Electric researchers and the Department of Energy are working on a project using 3D printed turbines that would make it cheaper to produce desalinated sea water. 3D printed wind turbines and solar panels are less expensive to produce, which can advance the use of these alternative energy sources.

And 3D printed honeycombs and hives are helping one of the earth’s most stressed species — the honeybee.

The technology is still in its early stages, and it may be early to measure what the precise impact on the environment will be. But certainly, the potential is there.

Konrad Malik, CEO of RapidMake 3D Printing, is excited to see how 3D printing will increasingly impact every part of our lives. His company caters to both large-scale manufacturers, as well as those seeking small 3D printers for individual or home use, and he knows that the day is coming when everyone will have access to the technology.

“3D printing is a household term now,” Konrad Malik explains. “The technology is becoming more accessible to everyday users. That sort of access is important — it’ll allow consumers to participate in the 3D printing wave just as much as big companies, like those already taking advantage of this new tech in areas of sustainability efforts.”

Clifford Smyth, author of the book Functional Design For 3D Printing, says “3D printing isn’t quite like magic yet,” as Malik may be envisioning for all consumers, but it’s getting there.

And industry advocate John Biehler said, “high-quality and low-cost 3D scanners and design tools are still imperative in order for 3D printing to go mainstream…The barriers are coming down, albeit slowly.”

But slow progress is still progress. All progress that both brings costs down and creates new, better technology is a very good thing.

This post has been sponsored. Images from Wikimedia Commons.


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