Additive manufacturing (AM) is widely recognized as a critical pillar of advanced manufacturing and is moving from the design shop to the factory floor. As AM processes become more popular, it is paramount that engineers and policymakers understand and then reduce their environmental impacts. This article structures the current work on the environmental impacts of metal powder bed processes: selective laser melting (SLM), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), electron beam melting (EBM), and binder jetting (BJ). We review the potential benefits and pitfalls of AM in each phase of a part’s lifecycle and in different application domains (e.g., remanufacturing, hybrid manufacturing etc.). We highlight critical uncertainties and future research directions throughout.
The environmental impacts of AM are sensitive to the specific production and use-phase context; however, several broad lessons can be extracted from the literature. Unlike in conventional manufacturing, powder bed production impacts are dominated by the generation of the direct energy (electricity) required to operate the AM machines. Combined with a more energy-intensive feedstock (metal powder) this means that powder bed production impacts are higher than in conventional manufacturing unless production volumes are very small (saving tool production impacts) and/or there are significant material savings through part light weighting or improved buy-to-fly ratios.