The impact of industrial manufacturing on our planet and the climate are undeniable. The 2021 Global Carbon Budget reported an estimated carbon emission increase of 4.8% against the previous year, returning to almost 2019 emission levels. In 2021 global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew almost 5% from 2020 levels, according to the International Energy Agency. With an increase of 2.1 gigatons (Gt) from 2020 levels to 36.3 Gt in 2021, this is the largest ever year-on-year increase in CO2e emissions.
With so much at stake, it is a shared responsibility of us all to reduce emissions and other detrimental impacts on the environment. Any industry contributes some level of carbon emissions and environmental impact, but with the right ethos and careful implementation of new policies and practices these can be reduced.
At EOS, we center everything we do around developing better ways of industrial manufacturing so that positive changes can be seen throughout the process without having to compromise on efficiency and quality. Through our continued work in additive manufacturing (AM), our goal is to encourage manufacturers to explore the possibilities of pioneering technologies and consider the value a more sustainable approach can bring to businesses, people and the world.
Sustainable manufacturing takes into account the impact it makes on the environment and makes adjustments to processes, technology, material choices and sourcing to offset any aspects that harm the environment as much as possible. This can mean different things for different companies, from changing suppliers to reduce the transport of parts, to establishing an entirely new manufacturing method that moves away from the traditional.
For EOS, responsible manufacturing means putting our long-standing and pioneering technology expertise at the service of supporting customers in achieving their own sustainability targets. 3D printing combines two levers of innovation which are linked and enabled through a digital value chain: product innovation and supply chain innovation. On the product side, AM enables purpose-driven designs and customization of products. On-demand and decentralized production as well as circularity of materials make the future supply chain more responsible.
Through 3D printing, there are many ways in which a company can make strides toward responsible manufacturing. Here are some examples:
When producing parts with AM, less material is needed, resulting in significant weight reductions. A lightweight design helps to reduce carbon emissions and functional integration. As an example, consider a hydraulic valve block on an Airbus A380. By producing a 3D printed version, the weight of this vital part of the aircraft was reduced by 35% without infringing on performance. This is just one of thousands of parts that make up an aircraft, so imagine the possible weight reduction if just half the other components could also be made lighter in the same way. With such a significant change in weight, aircrafts will burn through less fuel to function, reducing emissions.
Additive manufacturing opens up a wide range of possibilities when it comes to the design of parts. Being less restrictive than conventional manufacturing processes and utilizing advancements in virtual design and testing means that parts can be completely reimagined, both in their design and the materials used to produce them. Through 3D printing, manufacturers can experiment with highly complex geometries that would otherwise be impossible to achieve using subtractive manufacturing methods. The practical application of this can be seen in the reimagining of heat exchangers, which rely on high surface area density to displace heat and recover energy to make systems run more efficiently and reliably. In the case of the Conflux Core™ heat exchanger, the use of AM allowed Conflux to radically increase the surface area without compromising on the size of the exchanger (the reimagined unit was actually smaller than its predecessor). This resulted in a tripled thermal heat rejection, which allows for better energy recovery.
One of the real beauties of AM is the ability to shift parts production to an on-demand and distributed production model. In most traditional manufacturing, parts are produced en masse, usually exceeding requirements. Not only does this result in surplus parts that require storage, but it means the materials used to produce them have gone to waste. With on-demand 3D printing production, limited batches can be manufactured quickly and efficiently to fulfill requirements without the expenditure of materials or the requirement for surplus storage or disposal of unneeded items.
This was exactly the challenge faced by EvoBus, who often needed to bulk order replacement parts for buses in batches of 15, 20 or even 100 when only one was needed. With AM the company was able to establish a new model for supplying spare parts that doesn’t leave them with a stockpile of units surplus to requirement.
Furthermore, AM offers the ability to reuse some of the unfused powder from a print (i.e., the cast off loose powder that isn’t melted to become the final product) in future part production. The amount of powder that is eligible for recycling into future builds varies based on the type of application and what powder is used, but as an example, a standard PA12 material can be used at a 50% refresh rate — that means 50% recycled powder and 50% new, “virgin” powder. While these figures are variable, the general amount of waste material that needs to be disposed of is far less in 3D printing than in other types of production, such as subtractive manufacturing.
There are a growing number of materials being used to produce additive manufacturing powders with sustainability in mind. In exploring the characteristics of different powders, it’s possible to not only maintain high levels of product quality and functionality, but also to find solutions that are recyclable, longer lasting or entirely natural. The PA11 polyamide powder offered by EOS is an excellent example of how reconsidering the use of a naturally occurring and sustainable resource, like castor beans, can be used to change the way plastics are produced using naturally occurring materials.
Through pioneering AM technologies and materials our goal is to provide digital solutions to existing and future manufacturing challenges with sustainability in mind. For us, this means always working toward results that increase energy efficiency, reduce waste and use resources conscientiously at every step of the process. We wholeheartedly believe that through innovation and imagination, together we can establish responsible manufacturing as the new normal.