The potential implications of additive manufacturing (AM) have excited the imagination. Popularly known as 3D printing, the emerging class of technologies has been heralded as both a revolution in production and an opportunity for dramatic environmental advances.
Yet while the technological capabilities of additive manufacturing processes are studied extensively, a deep understanding of their environmental implications is still lacking.
A new special issue of Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology presents the cutting-edge research on this emerging field, providing important insights into its environmental, energy, and health impacts.
"The research in this issue shows that it is too early to label 3D printing as the path to sustainable manufacturing," says Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology and co-author of the lead editorial. "We need to know much more about the material footprints, energy consumption in production, process emissions, and especially the linkages and alignments between the various stages in the production process."
Additive manufacturing is sometimes seen as inherently environmentally preferable to conventional manufacturing because of its potential for local production — by consumers, retailers and hobbyists — and because it is thought to allow zero-waste manufacturing. Research in this issue, however, indicates that the environmental performance is very sensitive to the pattern of usage and configuration of the machinery and the materials used.