How 3D Printing Is a Revolutionary Sustainable Innovation

By Asheen

3D printingAs a sustainable innovation leader at a technology company, I’m often asked about the implications of recent advances on sustainable innovation. In this article I’ll highlight the potential of 3D printing to revolutionize sustainable innovation.

Three-dimensional printing — or more specifically, additive manufacturing, the term generally used to mean commercial-scale production using 3D printing technologies — is a concept that deserves its geek fandom. But I’d wager that few people have appreciated its revolutionary implications as a sustainable technology. Philosophically, 3D printing is the first technology that has the potential to enable a more biomimetic production model by aligning with one of nature’s fundamental tenets: the tendency to manufacture locally. (These and other deep design principles from nature are collectively known as the practice of biomimicry.)

Why Additive Manufacturing is a Shift

To understand why, consider the difference between how an object is traditionally manufactured and how one is produced additively. Traditional manufacturing methods focus on milling a starting blank — that is, removing material until you’ve achieved the desired shape — or injecting material into a mold. Both types of processes rely on expensive, high-throughput machinery to achieve high economies of scale that minimize costly raw material waste, so such manufacturing is generally performed at a company’s main production facility and then shipped around the world. In an additively manufactured product, in contrast, the product is printed layer by layer, with each cross section stacked on top of the one below it. Since this operation can be performed without huge, high-throughput machinery, it can be performed at hundreds or thousands of remote locations — or millions, if you consider the potential of a 3D printer in every household — with near-zero waste.

This hints at a very interesting shift for commercial product makers: they can focus on designing the best product as the source of their intellectual capital, rather than on how the design can be cheaply manufactured. Imagine, for example, if we could purchase the 3D model of an object we wanted to buy, rather than the object itself, and then download and print it in our home 3D printer. By buying this design from an “app store” of 3D objects rather than a brick-and-mortar shop, and printing it ourselves, we’ve completely eliminated all of the waste of traditional manufacture, as well as 100% of the energy and material normally consumed in transportation and packaging — while enjoying a more custom-tailored and convenient shopping experience.

3D Printing Materials

Sustainable Manufacturing

It’s also worth highlighting the materials that are typically used in a 3D printer — surprisingly, here too we can find a sustainability story. The most common materials used for the printing of plastic parts are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). Both are thermoplastics; that is, they become soft and moldable when they’re heated, and return to a more solid state when they’re cooled. ABS is far from environmentally friendly, but PLA is actually a sugar-derived polymer, so it can be made from plants; most commonly, it’s made from corn. (If you’ve ever drunk from a clear plastic cup or used a plastic fork marked “compostable” or “made from corn”, that was PLA.) Provided that we use ecologically sound agricultural practices, we could sustainably grow the feedstock for all of our 3D-printed objects!

The other beautiful thing about thermoplastics is that they can be re-melted and reshaped into new objects several times (though not infinitely, as their structure will eventually depolymerize). That means that when you’re ready to change your toy truck into a toy airplane, you could, in theory, toss it back into the 3D printer to be reshaped into the new object. This gets to one of the biggest sustainability challenges with plastic products today: their end-of-life treatment. Putting plastics into curbside recycling bins seems like an environmentally sound idea (and it’s still better than throwing them into a landfill), but once they’re trucked, sorted, cleaned, and usually commingled with lower-value resins, there’s usually not much economic margin to squeeze out of these recycled plastics — one reason why their rates of recycling are so low. In contrast, putting your pure PLA back into your 3D printer eliminates this whole recycling chain — so we can add “end-of-life impacts” along with transportation and manufacturing waste to our list of eliminated life cycle impacts.

Metals can also be made using an additive manufacturing practice called selective laser sintering (SLS), although these “printers” are much higher-end. Once these become suitable for casual use, it opens up a whole new category of objects that can be built. Although in theory metal is infinitely recyclable (its simpler crystalline structure does not degrade with re-melting), the grinding steps needed to reprocess the used metal into powder suitable for sintering would require a lot more equipment and energy, and would likely prohibit the recycling of 3D-printed metal objects in the same printer – even a direct SLS printer (which uses a single material powder).

At the Doorstep of Future Usages

True radical innovation occurs not from new technologies, but when those new technologies enable newly possible business models. Take, for example, the cool modular mobile phone concept called Phonebloks. Imagine that you want that new, higher-megapixel cell camera block that they refer to… so you just buy and download the new block, toss your old one back in the printer, and print up the new model in PLA with a metal layer with the electronics sintered on — all powered by the solar panels on your roof. Now, we’re starting to approach the manufacturing process used sustainably by nature over the last 3.8 billion years. And someday; your house?

Asheen PhanseyAsheen PHANSEY is Head of the Sustainable Innovation Lab at Dassault Systèmes

Making a Better World Starts in Your Kitchen

By Zoe

Welcome back! This is our fourth post in the Leapfrog Project series.  Today, we’ll take a look at another success story with Duc Thanh company as part of the Sustainable Product INnovation (SPIN) project we’ve been supporting in Vietnam.

The company

Duc Thanh LogoEstablished on May 19th, 1991, Duc Thanh is one of the leading manufacturers in Vietnam specializing in producing wooden kitchenware, household utensils, home furniture, children’s toys and other customized products.

Duc Thanh Company asked the SPIN experts for technical assistance on both market ant sustainability aspects, to develop a sustainable design collection for their business in 2014.

Hoang TRANThe new collection is indulged with the trend of sustainable design to reduce the environmental impacts of our products. By supporting the environmental protection, we would like to contribute our humble changes to our ecological system

said Ms. Duong from Duc Thanh Company.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Duc Thanh worked with Hoang TRAN, a young SPIN designer supported by SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to design a range of products that is not only sustainable, useful but also beautiful.

The products

The new collection is a range of 7 kitchen items. They should be all functional, but also contemporary and with a timeless style.

The design concept was to create objects that are “Sharp with clever design that is not heavy, bulky and rounded, and uses the available material in an optimal way.” says Hoang.

The target was a mid-market customer, so a bit higher segment than Duc Thanh is now supplying to.

The Sustainable Design Dimensions

Hoang, together with the company’s designers and stakeholders decided to focuses their design on 4 main sustainable design dimensions.

Sustainable Material

  • Using Recycled Material: Most of Duc Thanh Company products are made with rubber wood, recycled after rubber production.
  • Local Material: Duc Thanh wants to create a Vietnamese brand based on Vietnamese plantation wood. However, due to lack of side material suppliers, they still need to import from China or Taiwan while looking for more local suppliers for other materials.

Eco-design

  • Material Reduction: The design had been though in order to use the materials as economically as possible. For example creating designs that fit the wood sizes Duc thanh can buy to create least leftovers. They also worked on using the leftovers from bigger products for smaller ones. Finally, they designed products by minimizing the thickness of the parts, so the amount of material is reduced and the product is weight-lighted for transportation.
  • Simple Parts: The products designs are mostly rectangular flat pieces of wood, saving many manufacturing steps, material and making them easy to manufacture, preventing working accident.

Green Manufacturing

  • Energy Efficient: Duc Thanh is still working on saving electricity in production by replacing new machines that uses solar energy for example. They also work on calculating and preparing sufficient materials and labor force to use full capacity of the machines in production to save time and energy, in a safe process.
  • Reduce transport: The different suppliers are located near the assembly manufacturing workshop, in Vietnam or South East Asia region, which reduce the transportation steps and distances.

Ethical

  • Preserve Local Culture: Vietnamese traditional culture of wood handicraft is sustained and employees are encouraged to do research, give ideas to improve the production into an effective process.
  • Responsible Customers: Social and environmental aspects are considered along the entire life cycle of the products to raise awareness from workers to consumers. Duc Thanh also clearly explains to their customer: “that we do use the wood economically so as to keep the best price for them and create least leftovers, they are totally agree and support our methods.” said Ms. Duong.

 

A Jump ahead with the Leapfrog Project

Based on these sustainable dimensions and the first designs made with Hoang, I went to Duc Thanh company to help them using SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to assess the environmental impacts of their design choices.

Eco-Designer Using SOLIDWORKS

For each product of the collection, we used SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to make environmental assessments. Here are the results we got:

Hexagon cutting board with groove: 62% CO2 reduction

Hexagon cutting board with groove LCA

Tangram cutting board with hole: 55% CO2 reduction

Tangram cutting board with hole 390x195x24 LCA

Rectangular tray with 20 holes and 2 handles: 65% CO2 reduction

Rectangular tray with 20 holes and 2 handles LCA

Salad set: 61% CO2 reduction

Salad set LCA

Wine rack with 8 floors: 59% CO2 reduction

Wine rack with 8 floors LCA

The entire collection has been shown at the Ambiente fair, in Germany last February, part of the sustainable design booth. The calculation made has been used to create marketing content and awareness for customers.

Duc Thanh At Ambiente FairDuc Thanh At Ambiente Fair

After this experience, Duc Thanh shared with us:

With sustainable design and practices, we can reduce the price and improve the quality of products. Our customers are very happy and satisfied with this practice, so it is the success that we have achieved and will maintain during our journey.

Finally, we also want to communicate our vision and mission to our customers gradually. It is not an easy road to go, but it is necessary if we want to protect the world for our children. Each product contains our will and trial in making a better world.

So making a better world could really start in your kitchen… tell us what you think?  And stay tuned to the Leapfrog Project series :-)

Zoe BEZPALKOZoé BEZPALKO is an Eco-Design Specialist at Dassault Systèmes

Young eco-designer gives second birth to furniture with 3DEXPERIENCE

By Zoe

Welcome back! :-) This is our third installment in the Leapfrog Project series.  Today, we’ll take a look at a project called “Reborn” and its main lead designer, Hong.

The Reborn Project is a collection of living-room furniture created with up-cycled materials, and produced by Beautiful Company. The Reborn Project has been led by Hoang Thu Hong, one of the Sustainable Product Innovation (SPIN) project designers (you could see her being interviewed as part of the video in the previous post).

The Company

Beautiful Company is a small Vietnamese wood company making products for domestic market. To differentiate themselves, they wanted to make sustainable products out of up-cycled products. The challenge is as big as, culturally in Vietnam using brand new products is better seen than recycling, as it is a sign of wealth and prosperity.

The Reborn Collection

Hoang Thu Hong, Designer of the Reborn Collection

The Reborn collection aims on balancing aesthetic and function, creating beautiful furniture out of upcycled and recycled material.

Firstly, the concept is based on customers’ need to create functional and time-saving products. As Hong explained:

They want products to organize their place in a smart way, with a good atmosphere, relax and easy-clean. Besides, they tend to choose objects with multiple functions.

Secondly, the designs are based on up-cycling principle which is to reuse object or material in a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Hong used secondhand discarded furniture and collected pallet wood from import/export industry to recreate innovative and modular designs.

Sustainable Design Methodology

Based on Design for Sustainability (D4S) methodology of the SPIN project, Hong, and Beautiful Company worked with 3 sustainable design dimensions:

  • Recycled material
  • Local material
  • Longer Lifetime of the products

Local material

“There are variety local materials which could create better quality products using good skilled Vietnamese craftsman.” Hong said. Furthermore, using local materials reduces the environmental impact of transportation and preserving the local eco-system.

As an example, using pine wood from pallet wood in Vietnam instead of wood imported from South America (which is often the case in Vietnamese furniture production), we estimated a reduction of the environmental footprint from 6 to 12%, depending on the indicator.

SOLIDWORKS Sustainability results on localizing material

Recycled material

On the first hand, Hong used pallet wood from the import/export industry in which she chose the most adapted to re-design.

Different types of Palette wood

On the other hand, Hong went hunting for old furniture to recover some useful parts of them, such as these bed heads.

Bed heads before up-cycling

Hong used SOLIDWORKS apps to design the new products based on the second-hand product design, on which she design the new parts, such as making a sofa with storage units.

Redesign of the Bed head in SOLIDWORKSRedesign of the Bed head in SOLIDWORKS

We estimated that using 100% recycled material, like pallet wood reduce the environmental footprint from 48 to 76%, depending on the indicator!

SOLIDWORKS Sustainability results after choosing recycled material

Longer Lifetime of the products

Finally, by creating products that up-cycled instead of thrown away, their lifetime is extended. With a longer lifetime, we consume fewer products and reduce the environmental impacts.

The reborn sofa during manufacturing phaseThe reborn sofa during manufacturing phase

 

Results

Finally Hong and the Beautiful Company created a collection that has an average of 40 to 90% of carbon footprint cut-off, depending on the products. “Now the collection is displayed in Hang Xanh (Green Street) showroom where awareness and education is provided about how to up-cycle old products to give a longer life-time”, Hong said.

The Reborn SofaReborn sofas in Green Street

Inspired by the Reborn Project, Hong continues to create innovative designs out of pallet wood, hoping to produce them soon.

Palette Wood Collection SOLIDWORKS ModelPalet Wood Modular Chair & Bed SOLIDWORKS Models

If you are interested by other use cases, educational materials, and news about the Leapfrog Project, stay tuned and follow the frog

Leapfrog Project series

Zoe BEZPALKOZoé BEZPALKO is an Eco-Design Specialist at Dassault Systèmes



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