3D Printing is a Cleantech Innovation

Pike Research, whose tagline is “Cleantech Market Intelligence” posted a report listing “Five Disruptive Cleantech Innovations”. These, we presume, are technologies that should deliver dramatic ecological benefits to future generations as they come online in force later in this century. But what was on the list of five?
  • Energy Harvesting
  • Energy Storage
  • Fuel Cell Tech
  • Smart Meters
  • 3D Printing
You might wonder why 3D printing is on this list of otherwise very energyish topics. We don’t. We know why already. 
3D printing is incredibly favorable to the environment for one major reason: it enables the production of goods much closer to the consumer. 
Consider today’s typical product lifecycle: Product is designed in the West; it is manufactured en masse in the East (usually in China) from raw materials that were expensively transported to China from parts elsewhere; Finished goods are packed and expensively shipped halfway across the world by ship, where they they travel even more by train and/or truck to a consumer retail destination; Finally consumer travels to a retail location to acquire and then transport the item back home. 
If you think about all the transportation involved in today’s manufacturing cycle it’s pretty astonishing. How much oil was used not to make your item, but simply to get it into your hands? 
If and when 3D printing sufficiently matures to a state where a good chunk of common items can be produced at home, then this transportation cycle could be short circuited significantly. 
But, before you say it, we have a very long way to go before this can occur. 3D printers must mature and develop much more capability; access to sufficiently topped up 3D model repositories must be available; and the general public must buy into the whole concept. Those are not easy things to achieve. 
But neither is dealing with climate change. 
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