Will 3D Printing Transform The World -- Or Just Fill It With Non-Biodegradable Personalized Junk?

from the what-a-load-of-rubbish dept

It's clear that 3D printing has moved well beyond the breathless novelty stage, and is entering the breathless hype phase, with everyone declaring that it's the next big thing, and that it will transform the world etc. etc. etc. There's no denying it's a powerful technology with great possibilities. But against a background of uncritical boosterism, it's good to come across an article in the Architectural Review that points out some of the problems we will need to address to realize its full potential. Here's one:

We could start by properly critiquing the impacts of this technology beginning with a much deeper analysis of the materials used, the energy and resource requirements, and the supply chains that result in printed objects. Fully characterising the current production systems may help us to understand how they could be developed into ecosystems of exchange where the coveted objects can be meaningfully recycled by our biosphere.
It's all very well being able to print objects on demand, but unless the ecological implications -- both in terms of the raw materials used and the energy required -- are considered, it may well be that 3D printing is actually a step backwards when it comes to environmental impact. The ability to re-cycle 3D-printed objects needs to be built in from the start.

Another problem is more subtle:

If 3-D printing does not fully take on this responsibility then the sustainability of our current highly 'customised' objects is likely to be under scrutiny, as the unit cost of printers falls and hobbyists make legions of white elephants out of toxic plastics and when our landfills are chock-a-block with yesterday's badly made fashionable shapes. And while some -- such as ultrasound embryo portraits -- may have enduring sentimental value, it is likely that most will simply clutter up our rubbish dumps and precipitate our plastic marine continents as indestructible rubbish icebergs.
As this points out, if we are not careful, the personal manufacturing revolution may become the 3D equivalent of Geocities: a huge flood of badly-designed, useless pieces of junk that are soon abandoned by their embarrassed creators.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 6:00pm

    plastic

    anyone using a 3d printer needs to be aware of the plastic being used you dont want to mix diff melting point plastics, the lower temp plant based plastics are more biodegradeable and over time as we continue to burn oil for our cars, will become the plastic of choice.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 6:04pm

    "Will 3D Printing Transform The World -- Or Just Fill It With Non-Biodegradable Personalized Junk?"


    Yes.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 6:54pm

    The author's premise is absurd. Of course sustainability is impacted by progress and innovation. Sustainability is negatively impacted by cars, electricity, computers, cell phones, insulation for homes and waste water disposal (including toilets). It's the price we pay. And we pay gladly. Personally, I want it no other way.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 6:55pm

    It depends on the user; however, 3D printing has already proven to be an extremely productive tool. I question this article's motives.

    Also, I'd gladly go back to the GeoCities days versus the Facebook days. At least those "badly designed" pages were more creative and individualized than this current social media generation.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:00pm

    Open source to the rescue, presents the open source plastic recycling project.

    http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/precious-plastic-diy-plastic-recycling- machine-dave-hakkens.html

    But there is another point, is not just plastic, everyone needs to find a cycle for themeselves.

    An example would be water today everyone open their faucet the water comes in and then goes out, nobody knows how that water got there, how it was processed and they don't care where it goes, if you do that with plastic it will be a problem, but there is another way you close the cycle, instead of using thousands of litres or gallons a month one could be using just a few litres to replenish what was lost do to leaks and evaporation, think about a shower that uses only 5 litres of water to function, it throws clean water over your head, collecting it, filtering and pumping it back, sci-fi? no it already exists.

    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/170784-recycling-closed-loop-shower-is-cleaner-greener-and -can-save-you-1000-per-year

    Now, thre are the other sources of water to be closed like the kitchen and toilet.

    The same with plastics, there are some plastics that can be easily recycled all of them can be but some need to be dissolved into their monomers first so as to recreate the bonds that broke down over time, find that and find the uses and I am sure a closed system for plastics can too be created.

    I was just reading about artificial muscles created from normal everyday fishing lines that can are roughly double the strength of natural muscles, that is a good target it can create clothes that would self adjust, opening vents that react to ambient temperature, etc, now imagine you could manufacture those at home?

    Youtube: Power Fabric from Fishing Line Artificial Muscle

    I see homes becoming more like our own bodies, we don't throw out things we reuse everything to the molecular levels and only put out what we can't process and is in excess.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:19pm

    Does anyone else see the irony of an architect raising these concerns? Architects expend enormous resources and waste materials, energy and space to create and foster the building of structures that are not sustainable. I fly quite a bit, and without a doubt more money and materials are used to create ego-boosting and inefficient airport terminals in every location. Where a simple warehouse structure would suffice, massive spaces are created that are not sustainable at all. And these have become the poster children of architects: egotistical individuals building useless edifices to serve in the place of utility. Architects have no right to criticize 3D printing.

     

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  7.  
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    velox (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:41pm

    A step backward? That is needlessly pessimistic.

    What about the ability to make on-demand replacement parts so that an entire item doesn't have to be replaced when one small component breaks? I thought that green activity was supposed to be one of the principal attractions of 3D printers.

     

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  8.  
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    WulfTheSaxon (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:55pm

    PLA

    Isnít one of the most commonly used plastics for 3D printing PLA, which is actually somewhat biodegradable?

     

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  9.  
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    Benjamin C. Wade (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:02pm

    02170

    Forget airplane terminals. At least THEY'RE comfortable. Look at public transit terminals. Vaulting ceilings, with semi-enclosed walls and NO HEAT. These are designed for people? NO! They are designed to look pretty on paper. If they were designed for people, they would have lower ceilings, they would be fully-enclosed, and you would be able to sit down and watch the busses and trains coming in.

     

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  10.  
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    OMG, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:20pm

    "At least those "badly designed" pages were more creative and individualized than this current social media generation."

    yes yes YES this one gets it!

     

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  11.  
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    OMG, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:28pm

    I miss Geocities and all it's cheap, cheesy .GIFs and loud music. So much better than the shit we have now, I wish it never left. The author of this review can go fuck them-self.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:57pm

    Re: 02170

    they are designed to be cheap to make, but look expensive so they can charge a premium to incompetent governments

     

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  13.  
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    Greevar (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:58pm

    What is stopping people from shredding those items so the resulting pellets can be melted into more raw material for the printers? This seems to be very ecologically efficient. Use cheap, reusable raw materials, make them into new items, and break them down into raw material again after they no longer serve a use. It seems to me that 3D printing is a way to create an abundance of highly reusable resources. Why would you toss useful raw materials into a landfill when you can just use it to make something else, saving you money in the process? I will be glad to see billions of people using these tools to see what they can create. I welcome the infinitely renewable, ubiquitously abundant, post-scarcity economy and their beneficent overloads.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:08pm

    Re: 02170

    Airports are transit terminals. Same issues as the surface facilities. Architects had to invent sustainability in response to the fact that they have been wasteful in their design practices. And now, we have to pay them to "correct" the issues!

    One more thought. How much more efficient is rapid prototyping using a 3D printer, be it by powder or extrusion, than full scale mockups. Hell, just think of the energy, materials and lubricant needed to CNC a shape from a billet!

    Innovation costs, folks. Lack of innovation costs more. For myself, I prefer food raised the new fashion way (I will have extra pesticides and fungicides with that salad, please), a bit more dolphin in my tuna, sweet crude imported from the middle east or other far away place for my modest car, hydro or nuclear power, chlorinated water and medications produced by big pharma.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 11:53pm

    mass transpot, bus trains have to deal with a unplesant feature of some users, a wilful destructive tendancy you can punish those users but i doubt those idiots can pay for the damage they do. so easily repaired facilities are the go

     

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  16.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 3:41am

    Re:

    sums it up quite succinctly...

    i will say this in reply to some of the misguided remarks of posters below: architects *rarely* get an opportunity to design/build buildings which are a edifices to THEIR OWN 'egos', etc... in general, they are at the mercy and whim of THE OWNER'S ego...

     

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  17.  
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    Rekrul, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 5:59am

    Re:

    Also, I'd gladly go back to the GeoCities days versus the Facebook days. At least those "badly designed" pages were more creative and individualized than this current social media generation.

    Yes, it's just too bad that you could view more than a couple pages on any given site before it hit its ridiculously low bandwidth limit and became unavailable for hours.

     

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  18.  
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    Rekrul, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 6:03am

    Re:

    What is stopping people from shredding those items so the resulting pellets can be melted into more raw material for the printers?

    What is this "raw material" stuff you speak of? Everyone knows that you just plug a 3D printer into your computer and it magically spews out an infinite steam of objects created from thin air!

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 9:13am

    All 3D printed plastics are thermoplastics which means they can be remelted repeatedly. My advise to the writer: do your homework.

     

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  20.  
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    Jake, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Re:

    I was thinking something similar. The most common 3D printer designs all use some kind of thermo-softening plastic; they have to, in fact, because they're basically computer-controlled glue guns. That can be broken down for reuse with relative ease. The much hoped-for but not yet practical glass or metal-based ones would be even simpler to recycle.

     

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  21.  
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    xz11111000000 (profile), Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 11:59am

    You will eat your words

    When my bespoke SoC internet thingy chips lead the 3D revolution to victory over the dark forces of organized manufacturing, testing and standardization.
    Long live The People's Anarchistia of Crapistian !!!!

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 12:07pm

    It wont take long to switch to either fully reusable plastics or organic materials.

     

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  23.  
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    Greevar (profile), Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 1:12pm

    Re:

    They use thermoplastic, so they are already reusable. Just about every recyclable container is thermoplastic. Polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and PVC are all thermoplastics. Some are better suited to particular purposes, but they all can be melted and reshaped repeatedly.

     

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  24.  
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    DerekCurrie (profile), Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 1:28pm

    YES Biodegradable!

    There are plastics available as well as being developed that make use of corn starch as their base. These plastics are ENTIRELY biodegradable. How quickly they degrade and are digested is variable.

    Here are a couple useful Wikipedia articles to get folks started on the subject:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradable_plastic

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic

    A nd please folks, understand that turning such plastics into mulch and compost does NOT mean they are returned to the environment as CO2. They are mainly decomposed into dirt, which is one of the basic requirements for most plant growth.

     

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  25.  
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    127.0.0.1 (profile), Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 4:49pm

    Architectural Review synopsis

    tl;dr

    All White Elephants MUST be green

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2014 @ 8:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Simply not true. I have worked with architects for over 30 years. No architect I have met lacks a massive ego.

     

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  27.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Recycle As Fuel (to Greevar, #12)

    We use much more fuel than anything else except water, on the order of ten tons per capita per year (say, 60-70 lbs per day), in various forms, such as gasoline, natural gas, coal, etc. It's just that fuel is not very visible. It gets pumped from one tank into another tank, or fed into a power plant to produce electricity, which is sent through the wires Virtually any trash which will burn can be turned into fuel, or electricity, probably the latter, and there just isn't enough trash to substantially displace the requirement for fuel. The probable output of 3-D printers is just insignificant.Almost any improvement in energy efficiency matters much more.

    When people noisily outcry against trash, it is usually nothing more than an affirmation of their personal purity.

     

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  28.  
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    Anon, Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 11:49am

    3D printer green sustainability

    A surprisingly poorly thought out page from Glen Moody. Sounds like a lot of pop psychology re: humanity.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    Re:

    Easily repaired and safer without hiding places where the unwary can be ambushed and robbed. Plus bus/train terminals used to see much higher throughput at peak times compared to airports (fewer people affording air travel). I also thought that another reason they were left open in the past was so that exhaust fumes would disperse easily. Maybe that becomes less important as buses switch to NG, but the other reasons are still valid.

     

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  30.  
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    DerekCurrie (profile), Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Architectural Review synopsis

    LOVE the ignorance. THRIVE on the ignorance. MAKE LOVE to the ignorance.

    Or you could grow up, get literate, and read reality instead of wallowing in self-delusion. Just a thought, anonymous coward 127.0.0.1.

     

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  31.  
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    Cynyr (profile), Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Re:

    You are Thinking of this...

    http://www.filabot.com/collections/home-page-collection/products/filabot-wee-assembled

    They are working on the shredder to turn the plastic item into the small pieces needed for the filament maker.

     

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  32.  
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    notgmo, Feb 23rd, 2014 @ 5:08pm

    Re: PLA

    Exactly.

    As one of the two most common plastics used in 3d printing, PLA is
    1. Renewable (can be made from corn and milk by products),
    2. Non toxic (and in some cases food safe),
    3. Recyclable (can be ground up and used as input to new PLA production.
    4. Biodegradable
    5. Compostable

    tldr; OP is full of shit

     

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  33.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 24th, 2014 @ 3:06am

    Re: 3D printer green sustainability

    Poorly thought? Really? Environment is THE top priority nowadays. Forget global warming, this is but a hype. There are much deeper issues that need to be addressed and plastic polluting the oceans is one of them. The limitations of landfills is another.

    In any case it doesn't matter if people don't take the environment into account. It will come back with the bill sooner or later. Either that or God is fooling around with the weather tab of His SimUniverse game...

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2014 @ 4:59am

    Re: Re: PLA

    This. As an owner of a 3d printer, and a member of several 3d-printing groups; I can say that my (admittedly, anecdotal) data is this: PLA is *by far* the most widely used plastic. The other obvious choice (ABS) isn't used much at all. Granted, this is because PLA is easier to handle, and not because it is biodegradable. People are sometimes meddling with other materials, but nearly everything is done with pla.

    The people I talk to don't tend to consider it food-safe, btw, due to the FDM process not making very flat surfaces (which makes it hard to clean, and pla doesn't take to really hot water all that well).

     

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  35.  
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    Marcus (profile), Mar 24th, 2014 @ 8:23am

    No Clue How 3D Printing Works

    While I have no clue how 3D Printing works, the ecological implications are not lost on me. The last thing anyone wants is landfills on landfills as the inability to properly handle this potential windfall of consumer goods with either a biodegradable or other sustainable solution like recycling is scary. If there was a way to convert plastic into some sort of gas / oil to be used for fuel or energy that would definitely propel many components of 3D Printing to the mainstream.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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