Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Does 3D Printing Have To Do With Sustainability?

This week’s guest blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation Vice President of Business Development.

Over the last several years there has been a global push to improve sustainability. Sustainability in general seems like a pretty complex topic. It seems to combine efficiency, environmentalism, renewable energy, recyclability, etc., etc. I think back to my days camping as a kid. The motto was ‘leave it better than you found it.’

Rapid prototyping in general makes strong contributions to corporate sustainability. Reducing waste represents one of the key objectives of most sustainability efforts. Smart companies are doing everything possible to reduce the amount of waste material generated throughout their supply chains. Improving quality, reducing packaging and miniaturization are all methods that companies use to reduce the waste they generate. Interestingly, architectural designers have created specific certifications to improve how architects approach challenges in sustainability.

Intelligent use of 3D printers to make prototypes and scale models reduces waste in many different ways. By pushing errors and changes earlier in the design cycle, prototypes and scale models reduce the waste streams caused by those errors. When you catch an error in the prototype, you cut less steel and waste less plastic. In architecture for example, the savings are even more dramatic because the scale is so large. When you use prototypes and models to create better designs, you reduce the number of final products that get thrown in the trash.

However, despite the positive contributions that rapid prototyping systems make to corporate sustainability efforts, there are enormous differences in the waste streams created by these processes. I have heard stories of companies whose RP systems generate more waste than printed part material, at enormous dollar costs. Support material, shaving uneven surfaces, dissolving chemicals, etc. contribute substantially to the total cost of prototyping. These systems generate significantly larger hidden costs as those waste streams get flushed down the drain.

Z Corporation obviously prides itself on having the most efficient 3D printers in the industry: no support structures, no cleaning material disposal, no disposable build platforms, no chemical waste water, recycles 100% of the build material. Less waste today, better world tomorrow.

Is your company is starting to think about a more sustainable design process?

See Al Dean's Develop3D blog: Z Corp's Recycling Smarts

Free AEC Event (New York City):
How Leading Architects Leverage 3D Printing for Smarter, Competitive Design (Microsol Resources)
March 15, 2011, 5:30 - 8:30 PM


  1. I am very much interested in 3D printing but will like to get some more details into the cost to own and maintain these Z printers.Can you advise me on how sustainable it is for a just starting company.

  2. Yes we can provide you with all of that information, but the specifics depend upon your geographic region, application, and the individual printer model. Please send your complete contact details via email to and the right person will provide you everything you need.

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