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Case Study

Environmental impact of metal additive manufacturing

Project challenges

Identification of environmental improvements for AM

Using NCAM’s Metal Powder Bed Fusion facility, the MTC conducted a discovery project focused on identifying and assessing opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of the metal AM process chain.

Business challenge

  • Process Innovation


  • Electrification

Technology or capability

  • Additive Manufacturing

The Challenge

Additive manufacturing presents a unique opportunity to create novel products that would be infeasible, if not impossible, to make using conventional approaches. AM has been heralded as a significant tool in the transition to sustainable manufacturing by enabling new products and business models. From an environmental perspective, AM is already reducing the lifetime impact of components for specific applications.

Despite these benefits, during the manufacturing phase, current metal additive processes such as Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) are energy intensive and generally have higher associated carbon footprints per kg of final part than conventional manufacturing.

MTC's Solution
  • Through a combination of direct measurement and literature review, a carbon emissions estimation model was generated to better understand the current impact of a typical LPBF process chain, including post-build operations, heat treatment and surface finishing.
  • Workshops were held with process experts to identify development opportunities that could improve the environmental impact of the AM process chain.
  • Sustainable improvement concepts were collated and evaluated in terms of viability.

This discovery into the environmental impact of additive manufacturing has created an assessment process and a rich data set which can support industry in understanding and reducing the Carbon footprint of Additive Manufacturing.

Steve Smith - Associate Director, Transformation Team, MTC

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The Outcome
  • The largest contributors to carbon emissions for the LPBF process chain were identified as:
    • Embodied carbon associated with consumables;
    • Electricity from process chain equipment and ancillaries;
    • Embodied carbon from primary production of metal powder.
  • Concepts for improving the environmental performance of the AM process and AM facilities have been collated and assessed to guide future research efforts.
Benefits to the Client
  • A better understanding of the environmental impact of the LPBF process chain.
  • Capability to quantify the effect on carbon emissions before implementing changes to the AM process.
  • A clear roadmap for research and development to support more sustainable AM production in the future.
  • A transferable approach for conducting discovery projects with an environmental focus.

Additive manufacturing is a technology area that has huge potential to create more sustainable products. Through deeper understanding and demonstration, the MTC can drive the journey to sustainable adoption of AM technologies.

Dr Justyna Rybicka - Technical Lead in Sustainable Manufacturing, MTC

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