Additive Manufacturing – Will it save our Planet ?

Will Additive Manufacturing (AM) save the planet? Well, no single technology will save our planet from global warming. Since manufacturing activities worldwide are responsible for approximately one third of the global CO 2 emissions1), any production technology that can streamline manufacturing processes and/or reduce energy consumption will have a significant impact. Although empirical and reliable data is scarce, Additive Manufacturing can contribute to reduce energy consumption and therefore emissions in two major ways.

Simplification of the supply chain

Additive Manufacturing will shorten the supply chain by allowing (spare) parts production in proximity of the end user. The need to transport products to the end user will be far less significant and long-range transport thus vastly reduced. Spare parts will be printed on-demand either in end user's own printing shops or by nearby printing service providers, reducing the inventory level and cost.

AM will reduce waste in production: no material is subtracted, so there's no need to recycle in an energy intense melting process. Since AM does not need any product-specific tools such as e.g. a milling tool in conventional manufacturing, the energy required to produce them can then be saved. This will be accompanied by technological progress including the use of more energy saving laser sources or better sealed and designed process chambers in the printers which are consuming less process gas.

AM will allow for new geometries and designs of products. An AM-based product can include many different features, whereas with subtractive manufacturing it would involve different parts or components. It takes 17 steps to produce a truck gear using subtractive manufacturing versus 6 process steps to accomplish that same task with AM 2). Therefore, production and assembly time can be substantially reduced.

Design of light weight components and parts

AM will fuel the development of products, enabling the reduction of energy consumption and emissions over their product lifecycle. Let me illustrate this with the following example. For a long-range jetliner, a weight reduction of 100kgs will result in fuel savings worth 2.5 mil. and 1.3 megatons of CO2 emissions over its product lifetime. Therefore, aerospace is a major field for the application of AM produced parts. General Electric could realize a 25% weight reduction for the fuel nozzle of its LEAP aircraft engine. As a side effect the nozzle is also 5 times more durable than a conventionally manufactured one. Also, the production complexity could be reduced since the AM produced nozzle is printed in one piece instead of being assembled from 20 components.

Additive Manufacturing will not save our planet but can contribute to reach our global CO2 targets. Additive Manufacturing (AM) can contribute to reduce energy consumption and therefore emissions in two major ways: the simplification of the supply chain and the design of light weight components and parts.

Research3) shows that the GE case can be taken as representative for the industry. Lightweight parts in aerospace can, based on the degree of adoption of AM in manufacturing, realize a weight reduction between 5% and 25%. Other industries that could intensively benefit from AM are construction as well as medical components and tooling. Total lifecycle energy supply and avoided CO2 emission for those industries and aerospace were estimated with 2.5 to 9.3 exajoules and 139.5 to 525.4 million metric tons by 2025 and based on the degree of penetration of these industries with AM 4).

In relation to the overall annual emissions of manufacturing activities worldwide, this only represents 0.5% thereof in 2025. Nevertheless, further savings can be explored in case AM technologies will become applicable to larger scale production, increasing the AM process speed and a broadening of applicable materials.

Coming back to the initial question, one can say that AM will not save the planet but can contribute to reach our global CO2 targets.

  1. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report
  2. Metal Powder Industries Federation
  3. Delft University of Technology 2017
  4. Gehler 2014

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About Stefan Zimmermann
Global Head of Incubator Portfolio Industry Manufacturing
Stefan Zimmermann is responsible for the innovation and portfolio development in Industry 4.0 at Global Atos B&PS. He aims at helping industrial companies to identify business opportunities enabled by Industry 4.0 during their digital transformation process, embracing the Industry 4.0 framework. He’s got a very strong industrial background, having worked for companies like Siemens (>10 years) and Rheinmetall Group and also comprehensive consulting skills gained when working for Roland Berger & Partner.

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