by Melissa Donovan
Challenges from climate change and the use of non-renewable resources are undeniable. Sustainable alternatives are in demand. Corporations must address these environmental and social concerns as consumers look to them to set an example. Action is expected in the form of responsible manufacturing.
“Responsible manufacturing is aligned with the Ps of sustainability—people, planet, and profit combined with the big A word, accountability. For generations, manufacturing innovation relied on improving time, quality, and cost metrics to deliver optimal outcomes for customers, stakeholders, employees, and of course, the bottom line. However, the next generation of manufacturing must be reevaluated and the People, Planet, Profit, and Accountability (PPPA) equation bodes success in the future for those willing to invest and carefully find new and innovative ways that align with this formula. By putting together tangible and intangible goals that align with the PPPA, it’s possible to transition to a new era of responsible manufacturing,” explains Ryan Hayford, marketing director, Xerox Elem Additive.
One option is three-dimensional (3D) printing. 3D printed products inherently provide added value when it comes to responsible manufacturing. Lightweight designs—thanks to both the type of material used and less of it—help to reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, these designs not only solve complex manufacturing challenges but simultaneously minimize waste.
Responsible manufacturing means minimizing waste with a focus on more sustainable practices. In the additive manufacturing (AM) space, this is easily achieved.
“Responsible manufacturing is about recognizing the impact your business has on the world and making an effort to ensure it is for the greater good. Today, it is critical to prioritize responsible manufacturing practices as the challenge facing our climate is undeniable and is being recognized by the customer. Acting against this challenge is not only responsible, but also a good business practice to be competitive in the landscape,” states a representative from Xact Metal, Inc.
Ethan Baehrend, founder/CEO, Creative 3D Technologies, believes that factories and the process of moving a finalized product into a customer’s hands are some of the greatest pollutants and uses of non-renewable resources. As such, responsible manufacturing is of the utmost importance.
“Responsible manufacturing takes the current climate and usage of resources into account and takes steps to have a sustainable impact. More businesses need to push innovation to sustainably made products.”
“It is an AM OEM’s responsibility to stand and prove technologies fit perfectly with tangible elements, not only saying AM reduces carbon footprint but also demonstrating that its machines are designed to reflect that philosophy,” admits Mathieu Roche, marketing and technology manager, AddUp.
It’s more than just acting on accountability, responsible manufacturing is becoming necessary based on regulatory constraints. “This is seen in recent movements such as the ‘right to repair’ regulation by the European Union, which mandates manufacturers to make spare parts for electrical appliances available for seven to ten years after the model is discontinued,” notes Dr. Max Siebert, CEO/co-founder, Replique.
WASP srl defines responsible manufacturing “as the guarantee of a level of professionalism and healthy work during all production processes—from the choice of raw material, to the continuous improvement of process, product, work spaces, the health of employees, and collaborators,” says Nicola Schiavarelli, operations manager, WASP.
“Responsible manufacturing is often viewed through the lens of sustainability. And it should be, but not exclusively. It should not be taken for granted that safety is the most critical part of responsible manufacturing. Reducing material consumption, reducing wasteful production, and minimizing a company’s carbon footprint extends throughout the supply chain. It is crucial to source materials from a supplier who practices responsible manufacturing. Aligning these core values with your suppliers and customers is essential to achieving a responsible manufacturing ecosystem.
Downstream, it is equally important to develop a strong and robust value delivery chain,” adds Mark Norfolk, president/CEO, Fabrisonic LLC.
If you are aiming for responsible manufacturing, Siebert says the goal is to conserve energy and natural resources by sourcing sustainable materials, reducing material composition, and eliminating overproduction. Also, it’s important to prolong the lifetime of machines through longer availability of spare parts. This includes taking the corresponding supply chain into account by reducing transportation distances, which also adds to lowering the carbon footprint.
3D printing or AM is ideal for anyone looking to manufacture responsibly. “It involves manufacturing parts layer by layer using the right amount of material. We consider that printing practice intrinsically responsible production as we produce only the needed quantity,” shares Kareen Malsallez, marketing manager, Sinto 3DCeram.
Based on statistics from an independent survey commissioned by Essentium Inc., 97 percent of manufacturers expect 3D printing to impact their sustainability practices positively. Specifically, 45 percent of the companies polled expect 3D printing to reduce waste, 44 percent minimize or eliminate overruns, 40 percent lower heavy logistics requirements, 37 percent limit carbon footprints, 33 percent cut the transportation of parts, and 28 percent believe 3D printing will shorten supply chains.
Lead by Example
The importance of practicing responsible manufacturing is not lost of any of the manufacturers in the 3D space, and many try to lead by example by enacting responsible manufacturing processes in their own products and then translating that to customers.
Creative 3D Technologies supports responsible manufacturing by working with brands and materials that are more sustainable or have a net negative impact through the usage of ocean plastics. “Often times, if a printer is functional enough to seamlessly support these materials, a customer can achieve a competitive result with a net negative impact for less as the material tends to be more affordable,” advises Baehrend.
Essentium’s technology limits the carbon footprint of supply chains by moving inventories to the cloud. “This reduces the total size of production runs because you do not need to overproduce to anticipate end-of-life service parts. Those service parts can be AM at the end of life, resulting in further environmental improvements, a greater sustainability profile for the technology, and cost savings for the users of the technology itself,” notes Blake Teipel, CEO, Essentium.
Fabrisonic optimizes the use of the material in the manufacturing process. Ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) places material precisely—and only—where it is needed. “Instead of taking a large billet and removing significant material, UAM uses a smaller volume billet and adds features at the exact location desired. UAM prints solid metal at a low temperature, resulting in lower energy consumption in part production,” explains Norfolk.
The company recently studied tailor welded blanks. A concept from the automotive world, the disadvantage to tailor welded blanks is that they are stamped out of a continuous coil of steel, and 50 and 60 percent of the feedstock is sent back for recycling. Using UAM 3D printing, Fabrisonic can take a continuous roll of sheet metal and print the exact thickness of reinforcing metal exactly where it is needed, with little to no waste. After printing, the panels reinforced with 3D UAM are formed into integrally stiffened components and ready for the assembly line.
HP Inc. is recognized as one of the world’s most sustainable companies and in 2022 was named number one on Newsweek’s list of most responsible companies for the third consecutive year. “We were the first global technology company to publish a full carbon footprint, and one of the first to disclose a complete water footprint. We continue to measure and manage our environmental footprint across the value chain, always pursuing areas for improvement. By shifting toward circular design principles, we are working to increase value for customers while reducing environmental impacts across the value chain,” shares Mariona Company, global head of sustainable packaging, HP Personalization and 3D Printing.
Photocentric Ltd. has what Martin Thorley, marketing manager, Photocentric, calls a “radical environmental strategic vision, which is to enable the mass manufacture of thermoset plastics via low-energy use of LCD 3D printers.” It recently launched a range of resins that consist of plant-based materials. Specifically formulated to incorporate as much bio-based material as possible while maintaining valued mechanical properties, one of the main components used in the production process is pinene. Pinene is a compound found commonly in pine trees as well as rosemary and sagebrush plants, in addition it is a by-product of paper manufacturing.
Replique seeks to make production and the supply chain more sustainable. Its customers have to scrap thousands of parts per year due to obsolescence. With the Replique platform, they store the 3D printable files in a digital inventor. Parts are then produced on demand and just in the amount needed. Decentral manufacturing is implemented via an expert network, meaning that transportation routes are reduced to a minimum. Customers can limit their environmental footprint throughout the whole value chain. “Especially for spare parts our platform can be a huge benefit, as these parts are often difficult to source in the end of the lifetime. With our solution customers can provide spare parts on demand, anytime and anywhere without long transportation distances, high minimum order quantities, or the production of energy consuming molds for rather small series,” explains Siebert.
At Sinto 3DCeram, for over a year, it’s been implementing a policy to internalize as much as possible the assembly stages of its machines and source them closer to the company’s workshops. “We are very attentive to the sourcing of components for our machines. 95 percent of the components for our printers come from at least Europe and at best France. Thus, we have suppliers who are located less than 100 kilometers away,” explains Malsallez.
WASP production follows the KAIZEN model for continuous improvement. “This is the key word, the philosophy that drives internal development to optimize performance, quality, and the final product. The result is a professional product that reflects the quality of made in Italy,” notes Schiavarelli.
Xact Metal designs its 3D printers to run on the lowest possible power supply. It always prints components when able to and sources locally when necessary.
Xerox Elem Additive focuses on the goal of distributed manufacturing—which is the ability to produce parts locally, on demand and reduce shipping emissions and warehousing costs. This is accomplished by offering a metal 3D printer that is simple, safe, and deployable in any scenario.
Users and customers can deinstall, install, and send this equipment onsite anywhere in the world to tackle immediate supply chain issues. By offering a simpler technology, the ramp-up time is negligible and the ElemX can be operational in less than 48 hours from delivery.
3D printing adds value in number of ways, especially in regards to responsible manufacturing. Specific strengths of the additive process, such as less waste, lighter weight builds, and production efficiency are top of mind.
“Parts are built layer by layer adding only the material that is needed, so there is basically no wasted material other than support structures. It also allows the production of lightweight and optimized designs. Seizing the design freedom that AM provides, you can optimize the topology of a part in an unprecedented way. Hence, the 3D printed part can accomplish the same task and even maximize the performance compared to the original part using less material. This can help reduce emissions while minimizing waste during production,” explains Siebert.
Less waste is produced in AM than subtractive manufacturing. It is considered a more carbon friendly process, according to Thorley. LCD 3D printing, which Photocentric specializes in, is considered one of the lowest carbon forms of 3D printing, offering faster, leaner production as well as energy efficient materials.
“3D printing adds tremendous value. Not only does it create less waste in the manufacturing process, but the design flexibility makes it possible to combine multi-part assemblies into singular parts, reducing the total number of parts required. Additionally, 3D printers do not require continuous oversight, therefore increasing efficiency of labor hours,” shares a representative of Xact Metal.
In addition to less waste per job because it is an additive process, 3D printing also minimizes waste in another way. “It is does not require molds to produce, and therefore no warehouse space to store them in,” suggests Malsallez.
“The additive process includes exactly the concept of responsible production. 3D printing allows you to produce only what you need when you need it. It is ideal for making small/medium productions and also customized. It allows controlled production avoiding warehouse waste,” shares Schiavarelli.
Fabrisonic’s UAM processes places material exactly where it is needed and at the precise thickness to result in little wasted material. “As an example, because copper is typically used for its thermal and electrical conductivity, adding aluminum to the structure reduces the overall part mass. By reducing the copper and incorporating aluminum, the electrical and thermal conductivity is retained while decreasing the required mass. This combination of materials means using less copper, which is expensive and dense, to achieve the same level of performance while incorporating aluminum, which is lighter and less expensive,” explains Norfolk.
Accurate material deposition contributes to less material, less energy, and less waste. “It automatically compensates for process deficiencies such as bleed through binder jetting, z-height inaccuracies, especially using automatic vision measurement systems and smoother, more surface detail,” states Neil Firth, product manager – software, Meteor Inkjet Ltd.
Lighter weight builds are the norm in 3D printing, as “it allows for the optimization of many parts by lightning the material. In particular, the lattice constructions, which correspond to a need of functional optimization and by the same occasion serve the interests of responsible production,” shares Malsallez.
“Topology optimization and high-performance printers that can efficiently and effectively create those geometries are tools that will pave the way for sustainable production, especially if turned into a batch process, made to print parts in 80 percent less time, or utilize multiple materials within the same print to more efficiently create a part,” says Baehrend.
According to Hayford, “compared to subtractive manufacturing, AM may reduce waste up to 40 percent. Designing for AM is a major advantage when it comes to building internal channels, structures, and lattice structures that typically result in parts with the same strength characteristics as a traditionally manufactured part but with less weight.”
Less waste and lighter weight builds influence heightened efficiency in the production process.
“Yes, 3D printing is recognized as a more sustainable method of manufacturing, but to have meaningful impact it is important to take advantage of how 3D printing can impact the entire product lifecycle. Expedited iteration, faster speed to market, less resource-intensive production, a smaller transportation footprint, and the extension of product life with replacement parts on demand—this is the future of manufacturing. There are also much bigger opportunities as 3D printing enables both short- and long-term improvements and nearly instantaneous responses to market changes. In an increasingly global manufacturing environment, this is an unparalleled competitive advantage for companies, but also for customers. With 3D printing, developing, iterating, and manufacturing goods can be done by any company, small or large, efficiently and sustainably,” attests Company.
“3D printing enables reconfigured value chains—shorter and simpler supply chains, more localized production, innovative distribution models, and new collaborations,” shares Teipel.
Part of production efficiency is the buzz word “smart factory,” which is discussed in a range of environments. Production is becoming increasingly digitized. At Sinto 3DCeram, this means using the necessary skills anywhere in the world to design a part and printing a file and then produce that part as close as possible to the end user thanks to a network of printing farms.
Norfolk refers to this as Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS). “3D printing has brought the concept of on demand manufacturing and mass customization into the metal fabrication and manufacturing industry. Designers can produce parts from their desktops. From this point, they perform visual and mechanical inspection and employment into an operational prototype. This change in operation shortens the development cycle and has given way to MaaS. As more pressure is placed upon manufacturing from shortages of skilled and unskilled labor, increasing raw material costs, and machine availability, MaaS enables more efficient means of production in near real time.”
“3D printers and software technologies combined provide a framework for an automated system that can track a customer order from reception, through centralized design processing, inventory management, job management, and distribution right through to production, finishing, quality control, and ultimately shipping, finally realizing the twin holy grails of manufacturing—mass customization and product on demand,” explains Firth.
Agile and Responsible
3D printing or AM is considered a responsible manufacturing method. It supports agile manufacturing, reducing the need for bulk orders and instead promoting on demand production. Parts are created when needed and not just sitting on a shelf somewhere in inventory. The parts themselves are also sustainable since they are generally created with less material, whether due to the complexity of the part design or the material itself being lighter in weight.
Nov2022, Industrial Print Magazine