Initiating the Biofriendly Product Framework for Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM), also commonly referred to as 3D printing, is a process in which a product is made by printing successive layers of material.  This technology has the potential to revolutionize the future of sustainable manufacturing by reducing cost, waste, and transportation while permitting increased customization and novel, unrestrained design complexity.

Unfortunately, hazardous materials and processes have crept into the additive manufacturing process, and may have serious consequences for human and environmental health.  NGC is initiating structured peer review process and case study utilizing the Biofriendly Product Framework for additive manufacturing.  As a nascent, but burgeoning market for material production, now is the time to address issues of sustainability for this promising technology. 

While many properties of AM make is ideal for sustainable manufacturing, there are numerous problems that must be addressed.  Some of the filament materials used in AM contain additives and residuals that are inherently hazardous.  In addition, end users are unaware of potential safety issues: use of inappropriate, hazardous materials for food contact or even for children’s toys are possible, for example.

Certain processes may aerosolize printing materials or generate toxic nanoparticles or emissions that are hazardous to the health of adults and children who inhale them. By bringing the factory into kitchens and classrooms, inadequate personal protections and inappropriate process waste disposal methods are all too common.  While traditional factories can be held to certain worker safety and disposal requirements, these rules do not translate well to the home environment.

Ecological impacts from disposal of unidentified print materials are not well understood, creating further questions about reusability and recyclability.  As the AM market grows, this may confound traditional recycling facilities in sorting and processing traditional plastics waste, further downgrading the sustainability profile of current AM practices.

The Biofriendly Product Framework was originally created by Autodesk, Inc. with the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and should be published soon in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.  It considers stakeholder and environmental health impacts across the AM life cycle and how it varies with different materials; integrating life cycle assessment (LCA) green design principles, chemical hazard assessment (CHA), risk assessment (RA) and options for sustainable materials management (SMM). Now, in collaboration with Northwest Green Chemistry (NGC), the prototype framework will be shared with other thought leaders via a structured peer review process and case study around AM materials. Learn more about the project and how to participate.

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