Environmental Impacts of Selective Laser Melting: Do Printer, Powder, or Power Dominate?
13 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2017
Date Written: November 2017
This life cycle assessment measured environmental impacts of selective laser melting, to determine where most impacts arise: machine and supporting hardware; aluminum powder material used; or electricity used to print. Machine impacts and aluminum powder impacts were calculated by generating life cycle inventories of materials and processing; electricity use was measured by in‐line power meter; transport and disposal were also assessed. Impacts were calculated as energy use (megajoules; MJ), ReCiPe Europe Midpoint H, and ReCiPe Europe Endpoint H/A. Previous research has shown that the efficiency of additive manufacturing depends on machine operation patterns; thus, scenarios were demarcated through notation listing different configurations of machine utilization, system idling, and postbuild part removal. Results showed that electricity use during printing was the dominant impact per part for nearly all scenarios, both in MJ and ReCiPe Endpoint H/A. However, some low‐utilization scenarios caused printer embodied impacts to dominate these metrics, and some ReCiPe Midpoint H categories were always dominated by other sources. For printer operators, results indicate that maximizing capacity utilization can reduce impacts per part by a factor of 14 to 18, whereas avoiding electron discharge machining part removal can reduce impacts per part by 25% to 28%. For system designers, results indicate that reductions in energy consumption, both in the printer and auxiliary equipment, could significantly reduce the environmental burden of the process.
Keywords: 3D printing, additive manufacturing, embodied energy, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, selective laser melting
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