How to use the full environmental potential of Additive Manufacturing

by Benjamin Haller, Head of Innovation at AMEXCI

Sustainability is one of the main drivers of the 21st century and defines the agenda for every industry. More ambitious targets and regulations, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, require OEMs and every company to come up with innovations to further reduce their carbon footprint. 

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is often seen as a way for companies to reduce their environmental and energetic impact. While the technology bears great potential to fulfil those hopes, we believe that it is necessary to look one step closer to understand its real impact and how you can influence it.

A quick look at the state of art

While research at the intersection of sustainability and Additive Manufacturing was scarce some years ago, recently more and more entities have tried to shed light into this area. Some great studies standing out from our point of view are: 

• Global technology pioneer Siemens, which is using AM for the repair of their gas turbine burners, conducted a holistic comparative lifecycle analysis of AM compared to conventional manufacturing. Find the article here.

• The Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) initiated a state of knowledge analysis on the environmental impacts of metal AM. Find the article here.

• The German Fraunhofer EMI and the VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz conducted an economic and ecological evaluation of the resources for industrial Additive Manufacturing. Find the article here.

The direct and indirect environmental impact of Additive Manufacturing

Whether or not Additive Manufacturing reduces the environmental footprint of parts cannot be answered in general. This question always needs to be considered on an application-basis, where two separate areas must be analyzed: 

Direct impact: What is the environmental impact during part production (mainly raw material extraction and manufacturing) with AM compared to conventional manufacturing. Different studies point in the direction that AM often requires more energy to produce a similar component when substituting conventional manufacturing. 

Indirect impact: What is the life cycle impact of a part produced by AM compared to a conventionally produced part. Studies show that when selecting and designing the right component, the positive indirect impact of AM can offset a negative direct impact.

Instead of trying to answer whether or not AM is more environmentally friendly when compared to conventional manufacturing, we would like to share 4 ways in which AM users can reduce their environmental impact.

1. Select the right components

The first way to reduce your environmental footprint is to make sure that AM is used for the right components. While this might seem easy for a company in the aerospace industry, where saving the weight of an aircraft will easily yield a positive impact, it is more challenging for companies in different sectors, such as automotive.

Several companies have found innovative ways to still yield positive results, e.g. reducing the weight and increasing the lifetime of a truck, or using AM for repair and remanufacturing of turbine airfoils. Asking yourself, “How will the use of AM for this component influence the environmental footprint of the end product”, during the selection phase should, thus, never be forgotten. 

2. Take the environmental impact into account during the design phase

A second way to positively influence the use of AM is to consider the environmental impact during the design phase. The following example shows a titanium part which has a higher environmental footprint for AM (EBM) compared to conventional manufacturing when solid, comparable when a hole is drilled but less than half when produced with thin walls.

Figure 2: Priarone, P.C., Ingarao, G., di Lorenzo, R. and Settineri, L. (2017), Influence of Material‐Related Aspects of Additive and Subtractive Ti‐6Al‐4V Manufacturing on Energy Demand and Carbon Dioxide Emissions. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21 (1), 191-202

Reducing the weight is often beneficial in two ways. First, it reduces the amount of material used as well as manufacturing time, which decreases the energy required to produce a component. Second, reducing the weight often also has a positive impact on the life cycle of parts, e.g. by reducing the weight of aircrafts.

In addition to that, using simulation software during the design stage and process monitoring during the print will lower failure rates, increasing first-time-right and ultimately reducing the environmental footprint. 

3. Consider the environmental impact during selection of technology and material

Third, users should consider the environmental impact during the selection of a technology and material for a given component. While the technology is usually dictated by other factors such as part quality and build envelope, the material often leaves more room for choice. One way of achieving a positive impact is e.g. replacing high-impact metals like nickel alloys and stainless steel with low-alloy steel whenever possible

Another example shows the use of different aluminum alloys. While specific alloys such as Scalmalloy have superior properties and allow for increased weight reduction when compared to a standard alloy such as AlSi10Mg, the use of Scandium, which requires significant resources during extraction, negatively influences the environmental equation. The best material should be selected, depending on the amount of C02 emissions that can be decreased, by reducing the weight due to a superior alloy.

4. Select suppliers with environmental certification

For companies that are not producing inhouse but are using service providers, environmental certification such as ISO 14001 are a good way of making sure that the supplier operates according to best practices. ISO 14001 includes several guidelines and provides a framework to make sure that the environmental impact of activities is being measured and improved. Lastly, selecting a supplier that is located close to you or your end customer will save emissions during shipment of parts.  

If you would like to discuss any of these points in more detail or need support in assessing and optimizing the environmental impact of your products, feel free to get in touch! 

References

Bierdel, M., Pfaff, A., Kilchert, S., Köhler, A. R., Baron, Y., & Winfried Bulach, I. (2019). Ökologische und ökonomische Bewertung des Ressourcenaufwands – Additive Fertigungsverfahren in der industriellen Produktion. Berlin: VDI Zentrum Ressourceneffizienz GmbH.

Böckin, D., Tillman, A. (2019). Environmental assessment of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry. Journal of Cleaner Production, 226, 977-987

Leino M., Pekkarinen J., Soukka R. (2016). The role of laser Additive Manufacturing methods of metals in repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing – Enabling circular economy. Physics Procedia, 83, pg. 752 – 760

Priarone, P.C., Ingarao, G., di Lorenzo, R. and Settineri, L. (2017), Influence of Material‐Related Aspects of Additive and Subtractive Ti‐6Al‐4V Manufacturing on Energy Demand and Carbon Dioxide Emissions. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 21 (1), 191-202

Benjamin Haller, Head of Innovation at AMEXCI

benjamin.haller@amexci.com

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