3D printing may play a role in creating a more resource-efficient economy in the UK according to a new study conducted by Green Alliance, a British think tank.
The study, “Getting it Right from the Start: Developing a Circular Economy for Novel Materials,” posits that using new materials and designing for recycling could lower manufacturing costs in Great Britain. The study was conducted for Innovate UK, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The use of carbon fiber, bioplastics and 3D printing technologies can create parts and products that are even more durable than those that use plastics created from fossil fuels. These technologies could also enable new, more eco-friendly business models and product lifecycles.
The circular economy described in the paper would keep materials in use at their highest value for as long as possible. In order for that to be possible, products should be designed to last longer, to be easy to repair, and for recyclability. Systems would be in place to capture the products at the end of life and recover materials for other uses.
3D Printing and Remanufacturing
In the context of a circular economy, 3D printing can allow for rapid prototyping, small batch manufacturing and more resource-efficient production. Additive manufacturing would make it possible to refurbish parts and products, creating a new economy based on remanufacturing.
Spare parts could also be produced more cheaply and in smaller batches, which would lower the cost of maintaining products longer.
However, new materials can present other problems. Carbon fiber, for example, is difficult and expensive to recycle. But if companies could increase the quality and quantity of recycled carbon fibers, the material would cost 20% to 40% less than new fibers.
The creation of bioplastics could help agricultural and food companies reduce their waste disposal costs. Many of these bioplastics are also more suited for 3D printing or additive manufacturing.
The UK has launched a new industrial strategy with more focus on waste and resource management. The Green Alliance says that the government should support new technologies by providing more support to help manufacturers consider the entire lifecycle of products to increase value recovery. The government could also provide support for collaboration between sectors and in different supply chains for material recovery, as well as fund research into new materials and recycling.
“If it promotes a circular economy as part of its industrial strategy, the government will go a long way towards boosting employment and economic prospects, not just for scientists and engineers, but for small businesses around the country as well,” said report author Jonny Hazell.