Relatively new to the industrial sector, additive manufacturing is rising in popularity. More and more companies are adopting additive manufacturing practices at different levels because of their advantages both for business and sustainability. We will talk more about what additive manufacturing is and the benefits of additive manufacturing.
What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is the process of building industrial parts by adding layer upon layer of material. Most people may recognize this process as 3D printing since commercial machines have become more common. However, additive manufacturing is actually an umbrella term that encompasses not only 3D printing but other forms of manufacturing, such as powder bed fusion, selective laser sintering (SLS), and many more. In comparison, most industrial manufacturing is currently done through subtractive manufacturing where parts are made by removing material. This process creates scraps of material waste as machines drill, scrape, and cut out the desired form.
5 Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing reduces the amount of waste generated during fabrication. Parts are created using computer-aided design (CAD) to precisely make each individual layer. The use of computer software has helped improve quality management, This minimizes wasted material that would be discarded or at best recycled in subtractive manufacturing. Becoming more efficient with input materials can reduce the cost of production for companies and contribute to sustainability goals.
Reducing Material Use
Additive manufacturing inherently uses fewer input materials than subtractive manufacturing. Though subtractive manufacturing can be precise as well with the help of modern technology, additive manufacturing does not generate waste during production. Oftentimes a combination of both manufacturing techniques is used during production. Even using additive manufacturing to partially create something can save a large number of resources for large-scale productions. This can help bring down costs as well as help with sustainability.
Because additive manufacturing uses less energy and materials, costs are lower than alternatives. This is especially true for small, complex parts that are difficult to make through subtractive manufacturing. They can usually be made in a much simpler way using less and oftentimes cheaper materials. Smaller production runs are also more cost-efficient with additive manufacturing. This allows companies to reduce inventory, produce precise quantities, and reduce costs in the long run from potentially wasted overstock (although overstock can be sold or recycled by some companies).
Utilizing Recycled Materials
Not only are there many different forms of additive manufacturing, but there are also many different materials that can be used. Plastic, metal, clay, glass, and more can be used in additive manufacturing, although some of these technologies are still relatively new and thus more costly. Often these can be from recycled material, seeing as materials like plastic and metal degrade very slowly. Recycling materials is important to keep waste out of landfills.
Additive manufacturing uses 25% less energy than other forms of manufacturing. Layering thin, precise amounts of material uses less energy than the force of splitting material apart. The Department of Energy has prioritized investing in additive manufacturing to further reduce energy use in production.
Additive Manufacturing and Sustainability
Additive manufacturing helps advance sustainability in meaningful ways, and the advantages listed above help outline the benefits of this manufacturing method. It also fits within the circular economy. Most of the manufacturing industry uses inputs to create products that people will eventually discard. By using recycled materials, this would-be waste, is given a new life.
Additive manufacturing is also an important component of the larger green manufacturing movement to improve the industry for people, the planet, and profit. Focusing on green manufacturing initiatives can have a meaningful effect because of the size of the industrial sector in the United States. In 2020, it accounted for a whopping 33% of total energy consumption.
It’s important to recognize that measures can be taken to improve sustainability with subtractive manufacturing. In some cases, subtractive manufacturing may actually be the better option for certain parts, and for some industrial processes, subtractive manufacturing is the only option. In these cases, the best process may be a combination of additive and subtractive techniques.
The waste from subtractive manufacturing can in some cases be recycled or reused. Companies such as Just Make It Go Away can buy manufacturing waste and overstock from companies helping them reduce costs and contribute to the circular economy.
Additive manufacturing is a promising prospect for the industrial sector, and new additive manufacturing innovations will continue to emerge as more companies adopt these practices. Prototypes are becoming cheaper and easier to make, allowing manufacturers to find new methods to create components in leaner ways. This is helpful in reducing the cost of entry for adopting additive manufacturing practices and easing the transition to a new process. Learn how linear economy vs circular economy are different and why you should make the switch.
This may also signify a shift in the way we view manufacturing. If we continue to adopt green manufacturing practices we can reframe our thinking and adopt a more circular economy mindset. It’s a hopeful sign that technological advancements are focusing on reducing energy use and waste while also lowering costs. How does your company use additive manufacturing?