Sustainability’s Moment Is Additive Manufacturing’s Moment
The disruption needed by additive manufacturing closely mirrors that required to implement the circular economy. Both can be pursued simultaneously — and the right time is now.
What, then, does a sustainable model look like? The term “sustainability” is often associated with recycled materials, but truly sustainable manufacturing goes far beyond this and touches every aspect of the product lifecycle. To be sustainable means to be continuous, to do things in a way that allows them to carry on for the longest amount of time possible, even perpetually. It is manufacturing that supports and enables the circular economy. This model closes the loop left open by the linear economy, connecting everything from material through end of life in a continuous cycle.
To manufacture in a circular economy means selecting materials that are renewable, whether from sustainable biological or recycled sources. It means designing parts and products to use feedstock efficiently, and limiting the diversity of materials used. It means creating products that are optimized to conserve energy and reduce emissions. It means manufacturing locally and on demand, making only what is needed near where it will be used. It means creating better products that more precisely suit the need, and therefore will have longer lifespans. It means resuming responsibility for a product at the end of its life, and designing systems to recapture, reuse, remanufacture or recycle resources back into the material stream to begin again.
The circular economy unites every step of the supply chain. Resources used as materials in the beginning of a product’s journey are recaptured and fed back into the system at the end of its usable life.
To move from a linear model to a circular one is undeniably disruptive. But the disruption needed to implement sustainable manufacturing closely resembles that required by additive manufacturing. Both demand disruption of the supply chain in terms of material, design, manufacturing, product and end-of-life. Disruption in pursuit of one is also an opportunity to pursue the other simultaneously.
This is the moment for additive manufacturing, and it is also the moment for sustainability.
Our July issue contains eight stories that speak to the ways that AM and sustainability are informing, advancing and enabling each other. In the print magazine (you can find the digital edition here