Additive manufacturing impacts sustainability, innovation

Additive manufacturing (AM) is being utilized to drive the future of sustainable technology forward and encouraging innovation. Six indirect impacts and two direct impacts are highlighted.

By Morgan Green September 22, 2022
Fabian Alefeld, Senior Manager of Additive Minds Consulting at EOS, gave a presentation at the IMTS 2022 conference held in Chicago titled, “Additive Manufacturing as a Driver of Sustainable Business Models and Applications.” Courtesy: Morgan Green, CFE Media

Additive Manufacturing Insights

  • Additive manufacturing (AM) is advancing its energy efficiency efforts and technology. By directly and indirectly affecting carbon emissions, AM is mitigating costs for companies and contributing to climate change efforts.
  • Companies like EOS have started exploring new design variants for AM technologies. It is expected other industries will follow closely behind the AM industry by using inductor principles to reduce costs and consumption.

Additive manufacturing sustainability can be very complex. More organizations are starting to put a “green label” on products in hopes of minimizing their waste and costs, but one question remains: How sustainable is additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing’s impact is being discovered in real-time, and the manufacturing industry is continuing to see growth when it comes to energy efficiency and technology advancement.

Value chain and product lifecycle of additive manufacturing

Fabian Alefeld, senior manager of Additive Minds Consulting at EOS, said companies need to consider the whole value chain and product lifecycle to truly understand the impact in his presentation “Additive Manufacturing as a Driver of Sustainable Business Models and Applications,” at IMTS 2022 in Chicago.

The value chain consists of raw material, grinding and automatization, additive manufacturing, post processing and ends with the final part and lifecycle. “From my perspective, the final part and lifecycle is the most important and most impactful [part of the value chain],” Alefeld said.

Collecting and analyzing data from the value chain process is essential to fully understand the impact. According to Alefeld, “If you don’t collect data on the process and on the application, you’re driving half blind.”

Six indirect and two direct impacts of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing can both directly and indirectly affect carbon emissions.

“Indirect impacts are really the interesting ones,” said Alefeld. “They can be more sustainable, and also more cost-effective.” Indirect impacts are typically more far reaching. The root of additive manufacturing and prototyping is faster technology development, which is an indirect impact on sustainability within these applications.

Indirect impacts from additive manufacturing include:

  1. New business models

  2. Secondary operations

  3. Faster technology development

  4. New applications and technologies

  5. More efficient applications

  6. More efficient supply chains.

Direct impacts of additive manufacturing affect the environment and overt sustainability goals.

Direct impacts include:

  1. AM processes emit less CO2 compared to conventional manufacturing

  2. AM process chain produces less waste than conventional manufacturing.

The future of additive manufacturing

Top emissions per industry vary, with electricity and heat leading at 31%, followed by the manufacturing and construction industry contributing to 12.4% of energy emissions. Energy contributes the most emissions overall at 72%.

AM enables technologies that would not be possible with conventional manufacturing alone, including a new type of inductor.

Traditional inductors have posed challenges to manufacturers by having unpredictable service lives due to manual labor discrepancies, performance issues, long lead times and shape limitations. Conventional inductors also are mostly made of copper, which is difficult to put all energy into and more difficult to manufacture in general. By utilizing purpose-driven design and customization, AM eases some challenges for manufacturers.

Design variants for new inductors include strong asymmetrical geometries, shapes that can’t be rolled and better cooling through walls and pins. This leads to performance improvements that affect the cooling channels, contour accuracy, material savings and load optimization.

Purpose driven has helped reduce manufacturing costs, eliminate edge overheating and create more flexible soldering points that have contributed to up to 30% reduction in energy consumption and higher reactive power capabilities.

Adefeld’s company, EOS, has integrated a step into these designs with their dual function inductor. The dual function inductor has less power consumption and needs up to 60% less energy. It has also increased the lifespan by 2.5 times.

Adefeld expects the transfer of inductor principles will be applied to other industries. “This is really just the beginning.”

Morgan Green, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


What sustainability challenges has your organization faced?

Author Bio: Morgan Green, associate editor, CFE Media and Technology.