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3D Printing in the context of cleantech and sustainability

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Three dimensional (3D) printing has gained a lot of attention lately. While invented in the 1980‘s, 3D printing technologies have made rapid progress in the past decade and corporations in various industries are putting the concepts into use, from car parts to medical applications. However, 3D printing is still a small industry overall, the size of about $ 2.2 billions in 2012. Most of the industrial additive manufacturing installations that use 3D printing are in the U.S. Sustainability mission driven companies are incorporating 3D printing technologies to promote their goals to reduce climate change impacts.

The Cleantech Partner program of Autodesk provides the company's proprietary software tools to Cleantech stakeholders, innovators and entrepreneurs. Autodesk's 3D printing platform is used for prototyping and field testing of various products. The bigger challenge most industries face are scaling and utilization of the technologies for mass production.

3D holds the prospect of using economically sustainable materials and also zero-waste generation, especially when ‘following’ biomimicry, the discipline that emulates nature’s design and processes. For example, every leaf has solar processing capabilities - the photosynthesis (the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water, which usually involves the green pigment chlorophyll. The process generates oxygen as a byproduct).

Companies have been using printing technologies for years. This process reduces waste, saves time and enables optimization of the parts produced. Examples include: vehicle parts, toys, jewelry pieces, and the well publicized medical uses of printing body tissues and some organs.

The prospects of using 3D printing are vast and are game changing. Imagine that a consumer can walk into a car dealership and have his or her newly purchased vehicle customized on the spot, where the dealer will be able to 'print' some customizable features.

Experts estimate that in the future, companies will be able not to only utilize 3D printing in their manufacturing and production processes, but also provide some printing services to everyone.

Bringing the manufacturing closer to the users at home holds the premise of sustainable production, manufacturing and overhead cost reduction, and lowering the carbon footprint associated in shipping. Overall, 3D printing will reduce energy and also material use. It definitely reduces the usual waste that is normally incurred in the process of iterative design, prototyping, testing and the repeated cycles of failed models and redesign, till the desired end-product is achieved. Fallout material can be, then, reused in the next cycle of printing, promoting re-use, up-cycling and recycling behaviors.

One of the challenges is utilizing multiple materials in 3D machines. Today, there are several technologies that already do that in one device, where adhesives are used to glue multiple materials versus the traditional melting processes. Undoubtedly, there is room to innovate in this area and progress is expected in the future.

In a broader outlook, raw materials for printing may be warehoused and sold to businesses, various organizations and/or private users. Further, there might be copy-centers where people walk in, hand over a broken part and get a new one printed on the spot. One of the challenging aspect is not material use or the technology itself, but the adaptation of the design software, techniques and processes to be simple enough for most people to use on their computers at home.

1. Autodesk clean-tech partner program: 

2. The Clean Tech Nation Briefing Series, by Clean Edge:

Ford Commercial use



Ford has been using 3D printing technologies for rapid prototyping (using sand and nylon), for powertrain and more, printing molds for parts in the prototyping and testing process, and more. 

URBEE - Electric Car
URBEE - Electric Car YouTube

URBEE - Electric Car

Kor Ecologic, using 3D printing for the URBEE’s body, a ‘green’ energy efficiency car that is targeted for the masses. Website:

Portable battery
Portable battery Commercial use

Portable battery

Hydrobee has developed a hand-held personal portable hydropower battery for off-grid power, where up to 5 Volts generated energy can charge mobile devices (cell phone, tablets, lamps, etc.) for a short time and up to one night long. The battery is rechargeable. Website:

Soccer Ball that is a lamp
Soccer Ball that is a lamp Commercial use

Soccer Ball that is a lamp

Uncharted Play uses the technology for the Soccket, a soccer ball that can capture energy while at play. Then, the energy can be used later to charge LED lights and small batteries. Website:

Printing human organs
Printing human organs Commercial use

Printing human organs

In the medical, there has been several success stories in 3D printing of biodegradable structures for internal organs, bones, blood vessels and facial tissues. Scientists have been able to cultivate human skin cells around these printed parts, where the premise is to make custom and man-made organ transplantation possible within the next two decades.

Read more:

Printing jewelry
Printing jewelry Commercial use

Printing jewelry

Mango studios uses the technology for printing jewelry and more. See examples at

MakerBot - Printing technology
MakerBot - Printing technology Commercial use

MakerBot - Printing technology

MakerBot, a full-featured desktop 3D printer maker. The company states there are more than 15,000 MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers in use by engineers, designers, researchers, and hobbyists. Makerbot printers have won several innovation awards, as well as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012.
See examples of various usages at