The word “sustainability” is even more important in a post-COVID-19 world, especially as it pertains to finding ways to supply, manufacture, and transport more efficiently in order to make a positive impact on the world’s carbon footprint. One of the most significant talking points in this discourse is the practice of 3D Print Sustainability, which has massive potential in the movement towards greener practices. Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard discuss the state of 3D Print Sustainability in 2020, and how this practice can be better integrated into systems whether your business is big or small.
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Easy Going 3D Printing Green with a New Global View of 3D Print Sustainability – Updated 2020
We are excited to bring to you an episode we recorded in the past, but it’s still relevant now in this series with HP. We want to share with you why and some new information as well.
It’s a follow-up to the last episode where we were talking about sustainability. We were talking about broader sustainability, not just the recycling green aspect. We had this episode that we recorded. It was called Easy Going 3D Printing Green. We’re bringing it back for you here. These are some of those episodes we’ve told you and this is the first one in the series. We’re bringing back one of our more popular episodes and we’re bringing back because the topic is still relevant. We’re going to add a little bit here at the beginning and put it back into context for you, especially with what we were discussing on the last episode. when we were talking about sustainability as a whole. Also, putting it into context with what’s going on now and how the marketplace, the economy and the ecosystem is overall in terms of sustainability. You’ll find out at that episode that I used to write a blog called Easy Going Green.
It was a long time ago. I don’t even remember what year it was.
It was 2007 or 2008, something like that.
You did it long before we started WTFFF?!.
I used to have this blog and we would experiment with different things that we were trying to do to try to go sustainable. We talked about that in the previous episode, but I wanted to give you the framework on why we call it Easy Going Green. We’re talking about 3D print sustainability and 3D manufacturing sustainability was more of the topic and some of the things that we were adding last time. We want to cover this 3D print sustainability from the perspective of small to medium-sized businesses. When we think about what can you do, how can you operate, what ideas are new, what things are going on and is it more of a struggle now than it was even a decade ago for us, there are some things that are. That’s what we’re revisiting in this episode and we’re going to talk about some of these 3D print sustainability challenges.
We have to mention about some sustainability challenges for business in general in the context of where we are in 2020. There are some big environmental impact going on that I don’t think anybody thought we were going to be facing at the beginning of 2020.
Looking at a post-COVID world, as we keep calling it or mid-COVID world, when we’re looking at pandemic issues, things that are going on and we have some positive opportunities and things that are happening. We still have cleanup overall to the carbon footprint of the world when manufacturing shut down for a period of time and people aren’t in their cars and driving, we saw improvements. There’s NASA data on that and I love the Space Station images.
The environment in terms of the atmosphere, I want to carve this out because there are other environmental aspects that I want to acknowledge are not benefiting, but the atmosphere has been benefiting a great deal. That perspective of manufacturing shutting down, but also transportation, so much less air travel. The air quality out here in Southern California where we are has improved tremendously. It’s visible. You can see it looking to the mountains. Also, we haven’t had any smog alerts or health alerts for breathing. That’s great. On the other hand, I don’t know about where any of you live, but where we are, a lot of our grocery stores are no longer letting us use our own bags.We saw a clear-up in the world's carbon footprint when manufacturing shut down for a period of time. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
We have a law here in California where you have to use bags or you have to pay. You end up having to pay for paper or plastic to and use the store’s bags. That’s been waived here and removed. Now, we’ve all backpedaled and we can’t even bring our own bags into the stores anymore.
I find that the grocery store clerks packing all of our groceries are putting fewer groceries in a normal paper bag than I would, like at Trader Joe’s for instance. It’s way more paper bags, a lot more waste and more things to recycle. This is not having a good environmental impact.
It’s not just that, but we have a supply problem of materials right now. Thinking about a world where the shutdown happened, we couldn’t recycle things. The recycling was not happening in most regions of the country. We weren’t getting the supply chain buildup of recycled plastics, which we see, which tend to go into manufacturing at a great level. We used to make a lot of chair bases and other things. There’s a high percentage of recycled plastic content in there. If everything shut down in manufacturing, they’re not buying that, so there’s no source for that at that moment. Our supply chains are suffering from a source material problem. We’re seeing that across the board in so many materials that there aren’t enough recycled materials. We also had the personal problem of, we’re stuck in our house. What do we do? We clean our cabinets, closets and all the excess toys.
We couldn’t even donate them. After being released from sequestering, we still couldn’t find anyone to donate them. We had to trash them. We had to send them. They promise the people we sent it to and paid to have our stuff removed. We could have recycled it for free and gave it as a donation, but we paid to have it removed from our driveway. When that happened, they promised us they would do their best to sell it and recycle it and do what they were going to do with it and donate. Who knows if that happened because The Salvation Army and Goodwill’s of the world are not open yet? They’d been out. We need to rethink essential services and recycled materials and donations, all of those things are essential to our supply chain. That is where we are going to see problems and hiccups along the way for the next year. That’s my estimation on it.
I want to acknowledge the very negative environmental impact going on from the COVID-19 in terms of personal protective equipment with hospitals. There are so many materials in gowns and masks. There’s been a shortage of masks. However, in terms of gloves and gowns or whatever you’re protecting your body with in these hospitals, they are changing them and using more and more disposable materials. There is a very negative landfill impact and a demand of recycling that doesn’t exist. Many people are trying maybe to recycle plastic gowns. There’s not enough infrastructure to recycle them. This is presenting as a challenge.
With restaurants opening up, they have a lot of disposable menus and other things that they’re doing. Many restaurants are only using disposable plates and plasticware. That’s awful to begin with.
Let’s take another example we experienced. You go out to a sushi restaurant and you used to have the bottle of soy sauce in the middle of your table that you would pour what you needed. It’s very efficient and environmentally friendly. Now, you have to clean the bottle between every use. There’s supposed to be no shared materials. You’re getting all these disposable little packets of soy sauce as if you were ordering food to go. That increase of use and manufacturing the packaging is going to have a negative environmental impact.
We are seeing a lot of individual packaging going on. Even in the product planning part, we’re seeing the packaging changes going on there that use up a lot more materials. We have more demand for materials and less materials, especially less source materials coming in from a recycle standpoint. We are going to see that it’s not going to be so easy going green and that 3D print sustainability is necessary right now. When we talk about the benefits of going green from a 3D print perspective, and we look at it from a brand perspective, providing a competitive advantage that we’re using this technology, we’re using these things so that we’re using less materials to create items to begin with. We’re making them lighter so that if we do have to ship them, they’re lighter to ship. We are possibly not having to ship them at all because we’re making them onsite.
If you have already the infrastructure in the United States, I would argue in most modern countries in the world where there is a 3D print ecosystem and infrastructure, you’ve got 3D print materials already distributed locally. You have 3D printers already existing in every state and every city in the United States. Why ship something when you can make it locally? This is an example with the masks. People are making 3D printed locally. Other things we’ve talked about in some of the other episodes with regarding PPE in the hospitals, there’s a big opportunity there to be sustainable.There’s currently not enough infrastructure to support proper #materialrecycling. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
I want you to think about this, if this is right for your small to medium-sized business or this is what’s right for what you’re doing. If you have 50 to 200 employees thinking about the various ways in which you might be able to be more 3D print sustainable and manufacturing sustainable in general too. Some of the ideas that we were tossing around was that a lot of times you make products and you buy too much inventory of something. You have too much of something that you don’t need. A good example is when we put out a piece of furniture or a brand-new product into the marketplace, they make a lot of replacement parts. We may not need those replacement parts if we had a 3D print sustainability plan to how we are going to maintain products.
We may not need that excess inventory. We also don’t have to truck it and house it. We don’t have to have people who take it off a shelf and remove it. It’s a lot more efficient overall in how we look at that. That can be a significant competitive advantage. We urge you to think and look through the things that you’re buying, the way that you’re buying them and look and see if there’s a 3D print alternative that you could do, which would save you because then the only thing you need is some filament or powders, whatever machine and system you’re using. That’s efficient because you utilize them in many different parts and products.
From my own perspective, in the midst of COVID-19 and various stages of opening up of businesses, as someone in a company that needs to procure things or even as a consumer, the last thing I want to do is go driving around to a bunch of different locations of different distributors or stores in order to get things that I need. If I can 3D print it and not have to drive anywhere, not have to deal with putting on my mask going into another facility or, “Do they have a mask rule in this city where I’m going? I need to call ahead and figure it out,” logistically, I would much rather 3D print something that I need.
Just do it here and be done with it. When you think about needing a more robust system at home, in our offices and manufacturing facilities, we need this to be the reality in case we need to go through this again. God forbid, we have to go through it again, but it can happen. We look at that and say, “We have got to protect ourselves with more sustainability in our whole supply chain management, our whole manufacturing structure and our whole sourcing structure for our own homes and businesses. Are there ways in which we could utilize 3D printing in that process?” This is where great innovation is going to happen. I want to hit some of the changes that we both believe are going to have the biggest impact because the impact matters the most.
I learned this from Easy Going Green. We took away laundry detergent and replaced it with soap. We took away paper towels and replaced them with cloth. We drew the line with toilet paper and diapers, but we were on a path. We would try them and say, “Was there benefit to this? Was there impact in this? Did we create an impact both on a money side?” That was one important thing. We always looked at it from an economic standpoint. Green meant not just making something environmentally green, but it made more sense than that. It put more money back in our pockets and in our budgets. That’s how we looked at it from both perspectives. It needs to do both to be right and to be useful.
I’d like to say when we started that journey ourselves, getting rid of paper towel was a bit of an adjustment. It was more mindset though.
We had a puppy and we had a pack of paper towels for a while there and that was it. We were going through too many.
Other than that, for years, we used towels that we wash. We have them in a drawer in our kitchen and we don’t use paper towels. When it came to COVID-19 and there was a run on toilet paper and on any paper products especially in all the grocery stores, I don’t know about where you are but where we live, you couldn’t get anything.
We never buy napkins or paper towels. We didn’t have any of those problems. We did have toilet paper issues but like everybody else, we managed to get ourselves into Costco early enough to get ours. This is the thing. We do want a more sustainability model for ourselves and our businesses. What can have some of the biggest impact? The most obvious one is making any kind of products, any kind of things that you use by do. Less manufacturing waste, water and energy. Those are the three biggest things you can do to have an overall impact. When I talk energy though, I’m always thinking transportation, which is the next biggest impact. We’ve designed products like that all the time. We’re always trying to find ways to make smaller footprints for our furniture.We have to protect ourselves, our homes, our businesses, our #supplychain, and our manufacturing with more #sustainability. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
There’s a fine line between making ready to assemble furniture that makes people scream at the designer. We used to call it a six pack or more, fear to put it together. There’s always that frustration level. We have to run that fine line between, “Is this useful?” and helping us with major transportation weight, energy issues, consumption from that perspective and the smaller footprint overall but is it also complicating the lives of the user and the assembler so much that we can’t do that? There’s always a fine line between the tradeoffs that have to be made. If you can make a trade off and lower transportation weights and sizes, you’re going to help everyone. When a product weighs more and that’s something, even if it takes up the same footprint, it uses more fuel. That’s always an issue whether you’re air or boat freighting or trucking. It doesn’t matter which way it’s coming over. That is a significant environmental impact that you can have by removing weight. Smaller footprints in general are better.
In general, you would think it would be, smaller footprints are better and by considering those things, as we’re developing products, you can hopefully make a bigger impact.
This is up post-COVID conversation because we’re now talking about restaurants, office spaces, which are not putting as much capacity into a smaller footprint. They’re opening up those spaces requiring more spaces between everything, and there’s personal benefit and health benefits to that. There’s also an environmental impact to having a larger space to air condition, to heat, to do these things, a big cost to them as well with less efficient output. Thinking carefully about how can I do things that are more efficient in a smaller footprint? How can I create this environmental innovation, product innovation? These are the ways in which you can benefit and you can make a bigger impact into helping our future here in terms of making more 3D prints sustainability and more 3D manufacturing sustainability or environmental sustainability.
The last thing that we think has a big impact and we try to do this all the time, is thinking what we call cradle to cradle, not cradle to grave because that implies somewhere along the line, it’s done in the process. Can we use material and choose to combine materials that can be taken apart so that each part can be recycled? When we co-mingle things, which 3D printing is not friendly for co-mingling because if you’re doing an FFF-style printing, you have to stop a print, put another material in and do these things when you’re doing the fused powder materials. The materials in some cases are co-mingled within themselves because they’re not always a hundred percent pure. When you’ve got metal, you sometimes have plastic in there. That’s an issue, but thinking about how we can do that more efficiently and what kind of materials we can create, so that they themselves can become a full cradle to cradle going back into that recycle chain going to help us all with our supply chain management.
You’ve got to design and develop products thinking about the sustainability issues. The different combinations of materials and parts and how you’re going to be able to separate them to either create a replacement part that may wear out in time without having to replace all products or how you’re going to separate and recycle or reuse different materials. It’s more important now than ever.
Creating a sustainable supply chain management system is going to benefit you in the future. This is a long-term economic benefit, but it’s also a protection plan for another COVID rebound or anything like that. These are the things that can have the biggest impact in your goal for sustainability and in goal for a more sustainable business model, as well as just 3D print sustainability from that perspective. I hope you enjoy the rest of the episodes. We’ll get a little bit more specific into 3D printing there and into sustainability-related to 3D printing.
We hope you enjoy it. It’s still relevant today. We’ll be back for the next episode.
Easy Going 3D Printing Green – originally aired January 2, 2017
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.You have to consider how to do things that are more efficient with a #smallerfootprint. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
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.
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- 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
- Article on Digitally Manufacturing a More Sustainable Future
- Sustainable Impact at HP
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