AM Hub: What are the environmental benefits of AM?

Additive manufacturing (AM) offers a number of advantages over traditional manufacturing, including shorter development cycles and stronger parts, but did you know AM is also better for the planet? In this installment of AM Hub, Arash Bazrafshan, Director of Business Development at Burloak Technologies, discusses the many environmental benefits of AM.


Why is AM a good option for environmentally conscious OEMs?

Regardless of industry, OEMs are under increasing pressure to reduce their environmental footprint. External mandates and employee, customer and shareholder expectations are only increasing. This is not surprising given the toll that industry takes on the environment – generating over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US alone.

The good news is, most OEMs are happy to look for innovative ways to reduce the environmental footprint of their products and services. It’s the right thing to do for business and for the planet, and also drives a number of cost-savings opportunities.   

 AM is one solution that should be considered as it is environmentally friendly in many respects and can play an important role in supporting OEMs’ goals for greener products and processes. 


How does AM make components more environmentally sustainable?

At the component level, there are a number of ways AM is more environmentally sustainable, but three top the list from my perspective.

First is the almost waste-free AM process itself which involves building layer upon layer of metal powder to produce a component, versus traditional manufacturing methods which often involve removing material from a block to create a form. 

Second, AM enables the creation of lighter and more innovative components – such as the consolidation of multiple parts or the design of previously impossible geometries. This in turn, drives better performance and durability, so parts last longer and are less likely to end up in landfill.  

And last but certainly not least, is the fact that many AM components are subjected to Design for AM (DfAM) principles prior to volume production to ensure they can be produced effectively at scale using the right materials, quantities and processes. As a result, DfAM helps to avoid costly and wasteful technological, process, materials, quality and financial issues – all while driving superior efficiency, print quality and durability.

At the highest level, it all comes down to how AM can make parts perform better and last longer, while using less resources to do so.


Can AM help make OEMs’ products more environmentally friendly?

Many OEMs have begun introducing more eco-friendly products into the market, and many others have roadmaps in place to make their goods more sustainable. Great examples of this exist in the aviation and automotive sector where reducing the carbon emissions of vehicles and planes is a significant area of focus for innovation efforts. Because AM enables the creation of parts that are up to 90% lighter, while also enhancing strength, durability and performance, it can contribute to lighter vehicles and planes. Over time, this saves significant amounts of fuel, increases battery longevity and lowers carbon emissions.

Other ways AM can make OEMs’ products more sustainable is by extending the product lifecycle. Imagine an expensive, functioning product or vehicle and suddenly one part stops working. What if that part is no longer being made, or there is a significant parts shortage similar to what we saw during the pandemic?  AM can provide solutions in these types of situations as manufacturers can create parts based on digital design files. Suddenly repair becomes an attractive solution – reducing waste and avoiding the high cost of replacement.


From an environmental perspective, what are the supply chain implications of AM?

AM can help OEMs to optimize their supply chains by reducing complexity, costs, risk and environmental footprint.  That’s because AM parts can be built on demand, when and where required. This drastically streamlines the nodes of the supply chain, significantly reduces the shipping and transport of raw goods and finished parts, and, when properly integrated into the supply chain and manufacturing process, eliminates obsolete inventory and scrap.  


How will AM’s role in combating climate change evolve over time?

Today, OEMs are beginning to realize the many benefits of AM – including its ability to support their environmental goals. Looking ahead, I’m confident that the AM ecosystem will find new and innovative ways to enhance the environmental sustainability of this rapidly emerging way of manufacturing – for example, looking at the materials and equipment we use, setting expectations for our upstream and downstream supply chains, and looking for opportunities to recycle and reuse AM parts. 

One thing that is certain – Burloak will play a leadership role in the future of the AM space, and will move forward in a way that is good for the industry, good for business and good for the planet.

For more detail on how AM can support OEMs’ sustainability goals, visit our Sustainability web page.