Although additive layer manufacturing is well established for rapid prototyping the low throughput and historic costs have prevented mass-scale adoption. The recent development of the RepRap, an open source self-replicating rapid prototyper, has made low-cost 3-D printers readily available to the public at reasonable prices (
As the open source 3-D printers continue to evolve and improve in both cost and performance, the potential for economically-viable distributed manufacturing of products increases. Thus, products and components could be customized and printed on-site by individual consumers as needed, reversing the historical trend towards centrally mass-manufactured and shipped products. Distributed manufacturing reduces embodied transportation energy from the distribution of conventional centralized manufacturing, but questions remain concerning the potential for increases in the overall embodied energy of the manufacturing due to reduction in scale. In order to quantify the environmental impact of distributed manufacturing using 3-Dprinters, a life cycle analysis was performed on a plastic juicer. The energy consumed and emissions produced from conventional large-scale production overseas are compared to experimental measurements on a RepRap producing identical products with ABS and PLA. The results of this LCA are discussed in relation to the environmental impact of distributed manufacturing with 3-D printers and polymer selection for 3-D printing to reduce this impact. The results of this study show that distributed manufacturing uses less energy than conventional manufacturing due to the RepRap's unique ability to reduce fill composition. Distributed manufacturing also has less emissions than conventional manufacturing when using PLA and when using ABS with solar photovoltaic power. The results of this study indicate that open-source additive layer distributed manufacturing is both technically viable and beneficial from an ecological perspective.
Kreiger, M., & Pearce, Joshua M. (2013). Environmental impacts of distributed manufacturing from 3-D printing of polymer components and products C3 - Materials Research Society Symposium Proceedings. MRS Online Proceedings Library, 1492(mrsf12-1492-g01-02), 85-90. http://digitalcommons.mtu.edu/materials_fp/52