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How 3D Printing is Helping the Environment

By October 19, 2016 No Comments

When the International Fund for Animal Welfare was looking for a new campaign, they wanted one that showed the importance of their work.

The result? A series of images showing animals being 3D printed with the tagline “If only they were this easy to reproduce.”

These poignant images demonstrate the need for animal welfare measures. But for us, they demonstrate another point: the ability for 3D printing to help the environment.

On a General Scale

3D printing already has a positive effect on the environment. Additive manufacturing processes use fewer raw materials (and excess material is usually easily re-used). The products created are often lighter, resulting in lower fuel costs in both shipping and practice. Since products can be created on demand rather than in huge lots, we only manufacture what is needed.

As 3D printing expands, these positive aspects will, too. 3D printing has the potential to cut transportation needs as products are manufactured closer to the consumer. 3D printing also doesn’t require the massive factory campuses used by other manufacturing methods.

But 3D printing has also made a direct impact.

Planting New Coral Reefs

There have been many efforts to replace damaged coral reefs in the past few decades. But scientists and conservationists, including the grandson of famous diver Jacques Cousteau, are very excited about 3D printing’s capabilities.

3D printing offers features other attempts haven’t been able to replicate:
• The 3D printed reefs can be designed to mimic the texture of the natural reef, which encourages new reef to grow
• This mimicked texture is less expensive to produce with 3D printing
• The designs can be made with natural materials

Stopping Poaching

Poaching is a serious problem worldwide. And it’s becoming more serious – the numbers of rhinos in South Africa alone killed jumped from 13 a year in 2007 to over 1,300 in 2015. In the Americas, if beach protection isn’t present, approximately 90% of turtle nests are poached.

So those involved are turning to 3D printing. The startup Pembient is hoping to drive down interest in poached rhino horns by producing 3D printed versions that are physically and genetically identical to the real thing.

The conservationist group Paso Pacifico is sneaking 3D printed turtle eggs tagged with GPS tracking into nests. The idea is to track down those purchasing the eggs from poachers, possibly passing the information on to law enforcement in the future.

Lending a Hand (er, Paw)

As more is understood about prosthetics and animal anatomy, veterinary medicine has been able to accomplish great things.

And those great things include using 3D printing. Animal Avengers is one group using 3D printing to create prosthetics for wildlife. The team consists of a 3D designer, four veterinarians, and a dental surgeon.

Two of their projects include a new shell for Freddy the tortoise, who lost her natural shell in a fire, and a beak for Vitoria the goose. The group says these 3D printed prosthetics are considerably cheaper to create than what they could have done before – and they more closely resemble the natural body parts.

The Future of 3D Printing in the Environment
3D printing technology is developing and becoming more accessible almost daily. As these changes happen, we’ll see more examples of how a little imagination is combining with this technology to create projects that are drastically changing the world.