Unveiling the Environmental Advantages of 3D Printing in Fashion: Insights from the AMGTA Study


Renowned global trade organization Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association (AMGTA), recently released a study that sheds light on the environmental benefits of additive manufacturing in the context of the fashion sector.

The study, dubbed ‘Comparative Analysis: 3D Material Jetting vs Traditional Techniques for Designer Luxury Items’, meticulously scrutinized the effects on the environment from the inception to the delivery stage of a 3D logo that was incorporated into the heel of an upscale athletic shoe, over an entire year.

The findings of the report showed that the environmental footprint of the 3D-printed component, which was formulated through the material jetting process, was significantly lesser than its counterpart which was created using conventional manufacturing techniques.

Interestingly, the 3D-printed component resulted in a CO2e emissions reduction of 24.8%, as well as a decrease by 48% in stock material, in comparison to its traditionally manufactured equivalent.

Assigned by the AMGTA, the investigation was executed by the UK-based additive manufacturing advisory Reeves Insight partnering with 3D printer producer Stratasys, Italian high-end fashion company Pattern Group and its division, Dyloan Bond Factory.

“We are delighted to release the third research body in a sequence of independently appointed papers intended to disclose the environmental perks of additive manufacturing acceptance. We are devoted to driving the examination and publication necessary to better comprehend the sustainable worth of AM technologies as a part of the manufacturing cycle for wide-ranging business scenarios,” commented Sherri Monroe, the AMGTA’s Executive Director.

“This joint study with Stratasys and Pattern Group, evaluating the effect of a print-to-textile procedure, is our first research effort involving polymer. It provides crucial information that endorses the value of AM to influence one of the most historically contaminating industries globally.”

Stratasys CEO Dr. Yoav Zeif added, “This study demonstrates how the adoption of our superior AM offering enables customers to provide manufacturing solutions that enhance their impact on the environment and concurrently deliver competitive advantage through innovation in 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 study evaluated and compared both processes, with a production run of 16,000 logo components for 8,000 pairs of shoes. The additively manufactured parts were produced using the Stratasys Polyjet J850 TechStyle 3D printer.

The post-manufacturing analysis considered the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes and materials used. The primary analysis metrics were air, water, and land emissions. In the report, air emissions are presented as Global Warming Potential (GWP) measured in carbon dioxide equivalent units (CO2e).

It is worth noting that this study did not provide a full Life-Cycle-Analysis (LCA) of the final footwear. Instead, a detailed Life-Cycle-Inventory (LCI) for the 3D logo component manufacturing stage, leading to eventual footwear production, was provided.

All inputs to and outputs from the manufacturing stage were evaluated in this study. The inputs assessed were energy and raw materials. The outputs include emissions to air, water, and soil; 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 reportedly utilizes 49.3% less material by weight in comparison to the conventional manufacturing supply chain, a differential equivalent to one-third of a metric ton less of source material. In totality, a 3D printed accessory contains 50.5% less material than its conventionally manufactured counterpart, yielding a lighter final product.

In a related study, it was revealed that manufacturing the 16,000 logo components using traditional methods necessitated over 300,000 liters of water. This significant usage of water arises from the application of a paper-backed PU sheet as the principal adhesive agent. Conversely, 3D printing did not make use of any water.

From the perspective of energy consumption, old-school methods of manufacturing such as injection molding and thermal bonding utilized 7,122 kWh of electrical energy. On the other hand, material jetting 3D printing consumed only 2,548 kWh, which is 64% less electricity than what traditional manufacturing processes require.

Despite these differences, the research emphasized that both traditional and additive manufacturing methods produce approximately 150 kg of non-recyclable waste. It was also observed that traditional manufacturing resulted in an additional 131 kg of recyclable waste, while 3D printing did not produce any recyclable waste streams.

Moreover, the traditional manufacturing supply chain was found to have a slightly lower environmental impact than the 3D printing supply chain, with regard to transport-related emissions. This disparity was driven by the longer distances associated with transporting speciality resins, with traditional manufacturing using local supply chain partners.    

Calculating the sustainability of additive manufacturing 

Additive manufacturing is certainly seeing a growing focus on sustainability. Earlier this year, AMGTA conducted an LCA comparing traditional casting to binder jetting for an industrial part.  

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was undertaken by the Yale School of the Environment in cooperation with industrial 3D printer manufacturer, Desktop Metal, and US-based climate innovators, Trane Technologies. According to the results, binder jet 3D printing demonstrated a 38% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which is credited to a decrease in energy demand during production.

Furthermore, 3D Printing Industry was present at the AM Summit 2023, the largest additive manufacturing conference in Scandinavia. The conference had a substantial emphasis on sustainability and 3D printing.

Original source


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