3D printing makes it easy to go green in a number of ways, primarily in product creation. Tom and Tracy Hazzard look at how their past designed products could have been made with far less plastic in a more Earth friendly manner and showing how much plastic is wasted in traditional manufacturing methods. Even the United States Postal Service has a plan for 3D printing reducing their carbon footprint. Combined with more localized manufacturing, it’s easy to go green with 3D printing.
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Easy Going 3D Printing Green
Today being Business Monday, and I don’t think that many of our listeners realize that a few years back Tracy had a blog called Easy Going Green, and she had press credentials and was going to a lot of trade shows and traveling all around the country as part of our business. She was writing on these sorts of green issues.
It actually even predated our current form of what’s now our business, before our now seven year old was born. I’ve had a history of working with great, environmentally forward companies. They care about it. Herman Miller and Milliken cared about it. What I came to understand from working with them, and why I started writing about it, is that they firmly believe that going green was not just something you talked about and not just something you did because it was the right thing to do. That was part of it, but they did it also because it was part of having a business that’s sustainable.
Going green, the implication was that it was for making money doing that and being profitable about doing that. I’d write blogs about how you could save money going green. There are lots of legitimate companies out there that are going green, and finding that they are able to go green not to their detriment but to their benefit.
It’s easy here in California, we see a lot of businesses dealing with conserving energy. I mean all the houses in our neighborhood are built with solar panels on them. There’s so many Priuses and Nissan Leafs, you can’t even drive down the street a mile without seeing three or four of them.
Let me just give an example of some of those things I’d talk about in those blogs, some were personal about things we were doing at home to change to being green. There were some about companies that I knew and would profile they were doing it in a larger way. Some I wrote about in terms of product design since that’s our experience and our background. Easy Going Green was about some examples, like we took out paper towels and stopped using them.
The thing is there’s a debate about going green, and you have to have that debate, because it’s not right in every area and for every person to go ahead and do that. You have to look at the bigger picture of something, this is where people get paralyzed and don’t do anything and think it’s just over whelming. They think, “Why go green?” I mean my dad asks me why we have an electric car since fuel is so low cost right now and that it’s equal and it’s not going to be a big difference. That it cost so much to build the batteries and the car that you’re not decreasing carbon emissions, or rather it equals out. There’s always a counter argument. My point is though, that if you bottom line it for your personal household or personal business, that criteria is the only criteria that matters. That’s how you make it easy going green.
For us, we decided that water is not expensive here, I know it’s a commodity. But we are already washing laundry so to add a few dish towels isn’t really going to increase the load or be more use of water. Even though at the time we weren’t really anticipating having two more babies and recalculating how much laundry we do, now it’s actually more efficient with how many times we do laundry. It didn’t make a difference from a water use stand point for us. The cost savings on removing paper towels from our grocery list, because of how much we would consume, was tremendous over the course of a year. Talking about a good $500-$800 savings just right there from one item you changed in your system.
We looked at that and knew that it was worth changing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a penny pincher, but I knew it wasn’t going to hurt us to not have that. We drew the line at toilet paper though, even though I was in a crunchy organic earthy phase of life – when I’m on a mission watch out. We tried getting rid of laundry detergent, but that didn’t pan out. For awhile I was actually using nuts as laundry detergent, I mean soap nuts which are a natural thing. They go in a little bag and that’s the soap! Tom didn’t think it worked very well, but we determined quickly it wasn’t getting stuff clean enough. When the babies came around, we quickly said forget that.
I was trying more to reduce the chemical load on our bodies than to save money, so it was a little bit different of a driver. That’s the way I look at it. If you want to improve your air quality, what’s important to you? If you want to improve the amount of chemicals that are getting into your body or being put on your body, that’s another way to go green or organic and to do it. We don’t go wild with being organic, just the major stuff like produce.
This concept of easy going 3D printing green and Earth Day has us thinking about how all this sort of relates to 3D printing, and we are going to be talking about some other things later in the week regarding air quality and the toxicity of some of the materials used in 3D printing, we believe strongly in this 3D printing industry that is primarily plastics. I really think there are ways 3D printing can save the planet, you could move to a zero inventory retail model. If stores didn’t carry as much inventory because it was printed on demand, could you imagine that life? That would be just amazingly awesome. You’re not just saving in terms of stuff not made, then being unused and tossed, you’re not making things and transporting them, so you have that.
There is a study done by the US Postal Service, believe it or not, that they believe that 3D printing was going to save the post office, even though that seems a little counter intuitive. Here’s the thing, because so many things are doing by freight and train and trucking large quantities of product, also things done by express, but 3D printed items are so light and somewhat small in scope, they believed that people would find it more cost effective to send it via USPS two day or standard mail and would save the post office.
I think that they are not wrong, that lighter material being transported means that there’s less gas usage. That makes perfect sense when you think about it because let’s face it, every plastic product on this earth is manufactured. I don’t care what manufacturing process is used, whether it’s injection molded, blow molded, rotationally molded, or thermoformed and I’m sure there’s processes I’m forgetting in there, but it wouldn’t matter – you’re using material that is solid. It’s solid wall thickness all the time, whatever it is.
I remember when we were first starting to manufacture components of chairs in China, some of those arms on these chairs are really really thick. I always wondered if they were shells or two pieces put together, but they weren’t. There were actually manufacturing things that were two inch cross sections that were solidly this nylon material. That’s a lot of plastic in there. Think about 3D printing and now being able to control infill which produces a good structure with a lot of air in there instead of plastic. It makes a lot of sense, there is an environmental benefit to that.
There’s also energy use savings, so you aren’t running the machine all the time to make a certain level of run that then won’t be used. 3D printers, as far as I can tell use less energy, I have not come across any reports that 3D printers use as much energy as something like an injection molded machine. When you see those big injection mold machines, like the ones we’ve used in China, they are huge and they are moving tons and tons of metal. They are clamping together and pulling apart, over and over. Then there’s the heat they have to generate in order to heat up what are gallons and gallons of plastic at a time. Even if the part they are producing is using a sixteenth of a gallon, they have to heat the whole thing up, that takes a lot of energy. Then to inject it with that pressure and heat into there, per part that’s made on an injection molded machine, it’s got to be using a lot more energy than a 3D printer on the same type of part. 3D printers are only heating up this tiny little extruder and heat block. You don’t have all that weight it’s moving around.
The other was it’s easy going 3D printing green, is that very low waste. It’s not zero waste, but it’s very low waste especially compared to a lot of those other processes. Something that might be closer to zero waste would be rotational molding. They do sometimes cut out pieces after the fact, but you can drill out and regrind and throw it back in usually.
So much material is wasted in the injection molding process. You can see how large these machines are and how much energy they must consume in the video we took at a factory in China below:
You also have to think about its easy going 3D printing green from a more localized perspective, you are creating higher skilled jobs to 3D print and design and those jobs can be virtual so then you have less people commuting to an office. People can start up a hub and do all of those things, plus you have localized printers who are printing. Now you’ve localized printers in your community rather than having factories overseas or having them all over the place. Even if it only changes 1% of the overall retail consumer products on the market, the impact on the environment could start to turn things around and save the planet.
Think about it, one percent of everything in Wal-Mart, how many hundreds of thousands of SKUs do they have? It’s way up there, like close to a million. One percent of that is 10,000 SKUS, probably times by a minimum of a hundred thousand units per year that they are normally running in inventory. When it really clicks in the minds of some of these big executives at Wal-Mart or Target that they can save the amount of dollars they are committing to carrying inventory on even a fraction of these products with 3D printing, they are going to be some serious corporate initiatives pushing people towards making it their entire job to do that.
So those are the ways that easy going 3D printing green can save the planet. I love it and I think it’s easy, I don’t that it is hard. The hard thing is, which one to convert? And maybe the hard thing is changing the paradigms of those that are in control. None of these things are so controversial that they make it to the point of debate. I think that everyone can pretty much see 3D printing is low waste, there’s not a lot of waste coming off the machine. It’s really apparent and obvious.
Those are just our ideas of how easy going 3D printing green can save the planet. If we missed one, be sure and leave a comment below. We don’t have all of the ideas, but we have some of them.
Stay tuned for the rest of our Earth Week episodes and don’t forget about Maker Milestones. Hashtag #MakerMilestones, it’s the competition that you can participate in by only posting up an image of something that you believe is your maker milestone. Something that shows where you hit your tipping point, where you turned the corner, where it’s something that you’ve done that is really a milestone of accomplishment for you in 3D printing. It’s a competition sponsored by MakerBot, you post a photo of your project on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #MakerMilestones. You do not need to have used a MakerBot to enter, it’s open to any type of printer because they really just want to see the project.
We are actually judges in this competition, which takes place in June, and even though we are prohibited from competing in the competition, we are going to be adding in our own Maker Milestones and putting them out there as well. Keep an eye on social media for that.
- Herman Miller – Environmental advocacy
- Milliken – Sustainability Programs
- How 3D Printing Will Save the United States Postal Service
- Counter Intuitiveness of 3D Printing Helping USPS
- Maker Milestones Contest
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