Tangible Creative is passionate about exploring sustainable manufacturing solutions to our clients’ production requirements. Alongside 3D printing’s practical strengths for design and fabrication, improved sustainability is one of the reasons Tangible confidently invests in additive technologies. Although 3D printing offers clear environmental advantages over traditional manufacturing methods, current additive technologies still suffer from environmental shortcomings that hold back 3D printing’s vast potential. Tangible is committed to addressing these problem areas, eager to maximize this potential and operate with utmost sustainability. Tangible has worked to identify the positive and negative influences of additive manufacturing in order to achieve our sustainability goals.
Material Savings: In contrast to the subtractive technologies that dominate current manufacturing, 3D printing is “additive”. During subtractive manufacturing, material is removed to create the part. The material not included in the final product is wasted. Alternatively, additive processes generate only the material necessary to produce the part. While some technologies like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA) require additional structures to brace the final print, Tangible is committed to minimizing support structures and recycling 100% of the material used in their construction. Tangible’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printers require zero support and any excess polymer powder is recycled for future prints.
Workflow and Supply Chain Integration: Additive manufacturing has the ability to consolidate workflows and supply chains. The dynamism of 3D printing reduces the gap between designers and their product, allowing for fewer developmental stages in the production process. This simplification yields improved sustainability over necessarily complex traditional manufacturing networks.
Energy Consumption: Active energy usage is one of the most pressing environmental issues for additive manufacturing. 3D printers–particularly laser and light based machines–consume significantly more energy over time than traditional manufacturing methods completing the same task. This inefficiency is only relevant to large-batch production operations. Compared to a popular technology like injection molding, additive manufacturing uses more energy as output increases. Given Tangible operates at an efficient output level, energy consumption is less of a concern. Regardless, Tangible has looked into solar power for our production facilities and is still considering green energy as a future investment.
Material Complications: FDM and SLA printing are among the two most common additive technologies. Polylactic acid (PLA) is most commonly used as filament in FDM printing. While PLA is marketed as “plant-based” and “biodegradable”, the plastic requires unique and specific composting protocols to fully decompose. A similar problem faces SLA printing. Resin, used as feedstock in SLA machines, is naturally toxic. If not handled properly, resin can have a destructive effect on human and marine ecosystems, reaching oceans, lakes, and rivers through liquid-waste networks. It is Tangible’s strong recommendation that SLA printing should be handled strictly by professionals. Desktop resin printing is potentially hazardous and should be operated with full consideration to safety protocol. Tangible has the necessary facilities to manage SLA printing and maintains a zero waste policy for all our printing operations. Any failed prints or excess printing material is collected and stored for recycling and composting. Tangible is currently exploring the safest disposal methods for resin and PLA and we are looking for ways to reuse printing waste for second-life products and recycled filament.
Tangible is committed to promoting sustainability even outside of our technical operations. Tangible prohibits the production of any single-use plastic products through our services and forbids our employees from using single-use plastic in our facilities.