Environmental and Economic Implications of Distributed Additive Manufacturing: The Case of Injection Mold Tooling

Author: Runze Huang, Matthew E Riddle, Diane Graziano, Sujit Das, Sachin Nimbalkar, Joe Cresko, Eric Masanet
Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2017
DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12641

Additive manufacturing (AM) holds great potentials in enabling superior engineering functionality, streamlining supply chains, and reducing life cycle impacts compared to conventional manufacturing (CM). This study estimates the net changes in supply-chain lead time, life cycle primary energy consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and life cycle costs (LCC) associated with AM technologies for the case of injection molding, to shed light on the environmental and economic advantages of a shift from international or onshore CM to AM in the United States. A systems modeling framework is developed, with integrations of lead-time analysis, life cycle inventory analysis, LCC model, and scenarios considering design differences, supply-chain options, productions, maintenance, and AM technological developments. AM yields a reduction potential of 3% to 5% primary energy, 4% to 7% GHG emissions, 12% to 60% lead time, and 15% to 35% cost over 1 million cycles of the injection molding production depending on the AM technology advancement in future. The economic advantages indicate the significant role of AM technology in raising global manufacturing competitiveness of local producers, while the relatively small environmental benefits highlight the necessity of considering trade-offs and balance techniques between environmental and economic performances when AM is adopted in the tooling industry. The results also help pinpoint the technological innovations in AM that could lead to broader benefits in future.