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3D Printing: The Greener Choice

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These partially printed Swiss children's blocks show how a 3D printer can partly fill the interior of an item with plastic while maintaining its strength.

3D printing can save energy by using less raw material to create a product than producing it in a factory.

Credit: Samuel Bernier

Michigan Technological University researchers have shown that making products with a three-dimensional (3D) printer uses less energy than mass-producing them in a factory.

3D printers work by melting filament, usually plastic, and depositing it, layer by layer, in a specific pattern. The researchers conducted lifecycle impact analyses on an orange juicer, a children's building block, and a waterspout. The cradle-to-gate analysis of energy use went from raw material extraction to one of two endpoints, either entry into the United States for an item manufactured overseas or printing it at home on a 3D printer. The researchers found that making the items on a basic 3D printer took 41 to 64 percent less energy than making them in a factory and shipping them to the United States.

"The bottom line is, we can get substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions from making things at home," says Michigan Technological University professor Joshua Pearce. "And the home manufacturer would be motivated to do the right thing and use less energy, because it costs so much less to make things on a 3D printer than to buy them off the shelf or on the Internet."

From Michigan Tech News
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