Exploring the Environmental Advantages of 3D Printing in Fashion: An AMGTA Study Highlight


Global trade group Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA) has released a study emphasizing the environmental benefits of additive manufacturing in the fashion sector.

The report, called ‘Comparative Analysis: 3D Material Jetting vs Traditional Methods for Designer Luxury Goods’, investigated the environmental impact of a 3D logo attached to the heel of a high-end sports shoe over a year-long study.

The study found that the environmental impact of the 3D printed component, made through material jetting, was significantly lower than that of a part made using conventional methods.

Interestingly, the 3D printed part resulted in a 24.8% reduction in CO2e emissions and a 48% reduction in stock material compared to its traditionally manufactured equivalent.

Undertaken by UK consultancy Reeves Insight, the study was sponsored by the AMGTA. Other partners involved in the research included 3D printer make Stratasys, Italian upscale fashion establishment Pattern Group and its subsidiary, Dyloan Bond Factory.

“Our third in series of independently overseen research papers elucidating the environmental benefits of adopting additive manufacturing has now been released. We are absolutely committed towards building up the necessary research and propagating the knowledge required to further comprehend the sustainable advantages of these AM technologies within the cycle of manufacturing for a variety of use cases,” shared Sherri Monroe, the Executive Director at AMGTA.

“By assessing the ramifications of a printing to textile process in concert with Stratasys and Pattern Group, our first ever research foray into polymers throws light on significant data that upholds the value of AM in positively influencing one among the most historically polluting sectors worldwide.”

Adding his views, Dr. Yoav Zeif, the CEO of Stratasys stated, “The highlight of this study is that it exemplifies how the uptake of our state-of-the-art AM solutions allows our customers to introduce manufacturing answers that amplify their environmental impact. Concurrently, it also catapults them into a competitive edge through the innovative production for design.”

The 3D logo component assessed during the AMGTA study. Image via AMGTA.

How was the study conducted?

Commissioned in 2022, the study compared the production of a 3D shoe accessory using both traditional and additive manufacturing techniques.

The traditional multiple-step process included 2D inkjet printing and thermal welding of injection molded parts with sheet polyurethane materials. On the other hand, the additive manufacturing process required significantly fewer steps, and included material jetting using photocurable liquid resins.

The research assessed and measured the two different processes, with the production of 16,000 logo elements intended for 8,000 pairs of shoes. The components manufactured additively were generated using a Stratasys Polyjet J850 TechStyle 3D printer.

The post-production analysis took into account the environmental implications of the manufacturing procedures and materials utilized. The main analysis standards comprised emissions to air, water, and land. In the report, emissions to air are exhibited as Global Warming Potential (GWP), represented in CO2e units.

An important point to note is that this research does not provide a comprehensive Life-Cycle-Analysis (LCA) of the final product, i.e., the shoes. Instead, it provides a detailed Life-Cycle-Inventory (LCI) for the manufacture of the 3D logo components, leading to the production of the shoes.

This investigation evaluated all the inputs to and outputs from the manufacturing phase. The inputs examined were energy consumption and raw materials. The outputs examined included emissions to air, water, and soil, along with solid waste generation, products, and co-products.

3D logo component position on the shoe. Image via AMGTA.

Key findings of the study

Ultimately, 3D printing using material jetting was found to produce 24.8% less CO2e emissions than the traditional manufacturing process.

Across the 16,000 logo components, 3D printing delivered one metric tonne less CO2e into the atmosphere. The report also noted that improving the efficiency and productivity of the 3D printer could reduce these CO2e emissions even further.

3D printing has been shown to use 49.3 percent less materials by weight compared to traditional manufacturing, equivalent to a reduction of one-third of a metric ton. Overall, accessories manufactured using 3D printing use 50.5 percent less material, resulting in a lighter final product.

The research also underscored that conventional manufacturing of 16,000 logo components necessitated more than 300,000 liters of water, with the primary binding agent being a paper-backed PU sheet. 3D printing, on the other hand, required no water.

When it comes to energy consumption, traditional injection molding and thermal bonding methods used 7,122 kWh of electric energy. In contrast, material jetting 3D printing only needed 2,548 kWh, marking 64 percent less electricity than conventional manufacturing.

Nevertheless, the study emphasized that both conventional and additive manufacturing processes produced approximately 150 kilograms of non-recyclable waste. Moreover, traditional manufacturing also yielded 131 kilograms of recyclable waste, whereas the 3D printing method did not produce recyclable waste streams.

Furthermore, the conventional manufacturing supply chain seemed to have a marginally less environmental impact than the 3D printing supply chain in terms of transport-related emissions. This difference stemmed from the greater distances involved in transporting specialized resins, as traditional manufacturing uses local supply chain partners.

Towards a more sustainable additive manufacturing

There is undoubtedly an increasing emphasis on sustainability in additive manufacturing. AMGTA carried out an LCA earlier this year that compared traditional casting with binder jetting for an industrial part.

This Life Cycle Assessment was carried out by the Yale School of the Environment in partnership with industrial 3D printer producer Desktop Metal and US-based “climate innovator” Trane Technologies. In the end, binder jet 3D printing demonstrated a 38% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to lower energy consumption during production.

Moreover, 3D Printing Industry participated in AM Summit 2023, the largest additive manufacturing conference in Scandinavia, where a significant emphasis was placed on sustainability and 3D printing.

Original source


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