Image: Jonathan Juursema
Image: Jonathan Juursema

The COP22 climate change conference in Marrakech is fast approaching. As with COP21 last year, the spotlight will be on governments, businesses and investors all over the world as they are asked to take measurable steps to combat the negative effects of climate change.

But progress is being made. Many large businesses have already taken the pledge to become more sustainable with Ikea, for example, investing 600 million Euros into renewable energy projects. There is still a considerable way to go though, and mind-sets must be changed. Many business leaders may be unaware of the various techniques and investments available today that will help in this journey towards greater sustainability.

3D printing as ‘green change agent’

3D printing is transforming many industries for the better. Medical breakthroughs, such as 3D printed limbs and skin are transforming the healthcare sector. But 3D printing can also be implemented as a force for good in the fight against climate change.

Used correctly, 3D printing on demand can reduce the requirements to maintain physical inventories of products and parts, gradually streamlining and lessening the global supply chain, and promoting a less wasteful and more sustainable way of working.

 The most complex of parts can be made using only the exact amount of material needed; there is no need for excess, and nothing is wasted as a result. Businesses can have the flexibility to build even more complicated prototypes using different product mixes at every stage of the development life cycle.

Powering an industry into the 21st century

 The aeronautical and automotive industries serve as examples of best practice when showing the sustainable and positive benefits of 3D printing methods.

Automotive manufacturers in particular are under pressure to reduce carbon emissions in light of strict new EU regulations to reduce carbon dioxide levels. To make a vehicle more efficient, reducing its weight is crucial and this is where digital manufacturing comes to the fore.

Such reduction often comes down to shaving just fractions of an ounce from a vehicle’s weight. In order to do this however, manufacturers need to embrace new design methods making use of the latest materials, which can be achieved by deploying a process of rapid prototyping

 The scale of advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing available to designers and engineers means that they are able to progress new opportunities for parallel-path and iterative testing that may have been previously unavailable to them. The ability to create and design lighter and less energy-intensive vehicles will power the automotive industry forward into a cleaner and more efficient future.

Accelerating energy efficiency

Just as with the automotive industry, advances in digital manufacturing techniques are already creating tangible benefits for airline manufacturers looking to reduce weight and emissions, increase cargo capacity, and enhance the customer experience.

With aircraft and their component parts becoming much smaller, lightweight and efficient, so the geometry of these parts in increasing in complexity. It’s time now to consider 3D printing, as a  means of reducing complexity, especially in situations where multiple parts are being printed at the same time and require advanced dimensional tolerances.

Sustainability- not a ‘bolt- on’ or afterthought

 It’s crucial for today’s manufacturers to give serious and meticulous thought to their current processes and to embrace advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing as a catalyst in helping them to achieve greater efficiency.

With more pressure and regulations being brought into effect with each passing climate change conference, business leaders across the world can no longer consider sustainability as a ‘bolt- on’ or afterthought. 3D printing is a key technique that businesses should invest in now to help them play their part in the global fight against climate change.


By Damian Hennessey, director, Proto Labs