Sustainability, along with CSR policies, has become something of a constant in additive manufacturing over the past few years. Most AM companies see themselves as driving a revolution in the way the world makes everything and it makes logical sense that this revolution should be guided by some of the most pressing global issues and challenges: fighting climate change while ensuring a better quality of life for all. EOS, the leader in PBF technology, one of the most viable AM technologies for serial and mass customized part production, has taken a leadership role through what the company defines as “Responsible Manufacturing”. This is a broad concept that encompasses many aspects of what it will take for AM to drive the sustainable manufacturing revolution, from hardware and processes to materials and applications. And, of course, the people that make it happen, both clients and employees. Ahead of the upcoming AMTC conference, where EOS will discuss and present its policies and initiatives in detail, 3dpbm spoke with Markus Glasser, Senior Vice President EMEA, and Björn Hannappel, Head of Sustainability, to learn why Responsible Manufacturing is not a whim but a powerful strategy that will increasingly drive the company’s and the industry’s growth.
Technology from EOS, or from most additive manufacturing processes, is responsible by design. We learned that AM can help with sustainability both in terms of product innovation […] and supply chain innovation
“There are many reasons for increasing the sustainability of our technology”, Björn Hannappel begins. “Many of our customers have already defined sustainability strategies and specific targets. At the same time, we are seeing significant input in terms of legislation. Especially in Europe, there is mandatory CSR and sustainability reporting coming up, along with an EU taxonomy for sustainable activities. We all know the Fridays for Future movement, so when it comes to recruiting people, especially young people, it is very important that you can offer them a company purpose they can share, that you’re working on environmental, social topics and generally sustainability topics, otherwise they might just not consider working with you.”
Leading the charge
EOS has taken a leadership role in implementing Responsible Manufacturing and Hannappel agrees that these topics are seeing a lot of traction in the general AM industry. This, he says “is really good because sustainability is such a huge challenge that one company alone cannot solve it.” AMGTA: the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association was created for this reason and EOS was one of the very first members to join.
These are some of the external drivers, but the Responsible Manufacturing program also came from inside EOS, with the Langer founding family, and the CEO Marie Langer, making it a key focus area. The first layer of this strategy today is the company purpose and claim which consists in accelerating the transition to Responsible Manufacturing with industrial 3D printing. From an organizational perspective, the CEO decided to build a sustainability department, led by Hannappel. “We have a growing sustainability team and full support from senior management,” he explains. “We’re currently developing strategy targets and KPIs, which we are aligning and will announce early next year. That will be a major step forward in how we implement Responsible Manufacturing because that’s something we will push out into the public and we want to be measured by it.”
The EOS global sustainability team includes about 25 people. They don’t necessarily have the term sustainability in their job description but are in key positions to drive this topic in their activities. For EOS, Responsible Manufacturing is the new normal and sustainability is going to be a part of all standard activities. The definition of the company purpose involved about 600 employees across all regions, about 50% of the entire workforce, who manifested that sustainability was their primary concern. The term “Responsible Manufacturing” implies that it goes beyond environmental aspects and implies taking responsibility for what needs to be done.
…it’s very important for the industry to become more transparent and make more data available […] We believe that this technology can support sustainable development, and we need to understand how to make the most out of it.
Implementing Responsible Manufacturing
It’s easy to talk about sustainability but it’s more difficult to understand exactly what it means in practical terms. For Hannappel “it’s very important for the industry to become more transparent and make more data available: it’s easy to say that 3D printing is more sustainable and everyone likes that. But there are not yet enough elements to prove it. We believe that this technology can support sustainable development, but we need to understand how to make the most out of it.”
There are many ways to go about it. For starters, EOS facilities in Germany are ISO 14001 certified for environmental management, with four primary focus areas. One is energy usage and CO2e emissions (or CO2 emissions). The second one is raw material and resource usage. The third one is waste and dangerous materials or hazardous materials and the fourth is water usage and wastewater. Hannappel’s team is developing targets for improvement, with a yearly audit from an external auditor. At the same time EOS is focusing its global CSR activities on SDG 4, which is the Sustainability Development Goal for Quality Education, looking specifically at opportunities in STEM for women and minority groups. “In this area – Hannappel continues – we’re building partnerships in the US, Europe and globally. It is planned that local teams all get a budget, as a certain percentage of the EBIT, and will be able to decide on local activities to support. Above that, we have strategic global partnerships in place and work on a volunteering concept for our colleagues for their engagement in social programs. Last but not least, all revenues from the Powder Take Back program are donated into social projects so that all customers who are giving away their waste powder are contributing to social initiatives.”
A systemic Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for YOU MAWO eyewear and concluded that the carbon footprint of a customized, 3D printed YOU MAWO eyewear is around 58% lower compared to conventionally manufactured eyewear.
One more way that EOS worked to demonstrate the sustainability benefits of using AM was through a study that involved one of its customers, YOU MAWO, a maker of 3D printed eyewear, and the Fraunhofer Institute. The organizations conducted a systemic Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for YOU MAWO eyewear and concluded that the carbon footprint of a customized, 3D printed YOU MAWO eyewear is around 58% lower compared to conventionally manufactured eyewear. Furthermore, 3D printed eyewear creates 80% less waste compared to conventionally manufactured Acetate eyewear and can help to avoid lengthy post-processing. In addition, additively manufactured eyewear is lighter, more stable and has a higher wearing comfort.
“We wanted to create our own data and find proof points that additive can be better than conventional manufacturing,” Hannappel comments, “and we also wanted to see if there were areas where we can improve AM. Interestingly–or luckily–we found that the area where we could have the biggest impact within this application in terms of sustainability and environmental impact was in the powder materials. That gave us a very good indication on what to work on next.”
The material matter
With plastics pollution representing a major challenge and raw metal material becoming harder and more expensive to obtain due to geopolitical instability, any process that can reduce material use and increase recyclability can bring significant environmental and economic benefits. EOS realized that there are many aspects of its material policies that can be optimized, starting with material sourcing. This means constantly looking for alternative materials, such as bio-sourced, and more biodegradable materials as well as developing optimized parameters for our systems in terms of refresh rate and reuse, all the way to powder and even printed part re-use. “We’re looking into biodegradability with a major research project in the US, which looks really promising,” Hannappel reveals. “In Germany –he adds – we already have a take-back program for our customers’ used powders. And we’re looking into options to make it a global topic.
Offering clients more sustainable materials is a key element in EOS’s growth strategy, something that no other PBF company can do to this extent and that’s what Markus Glasser, is betting on. “We’re working towards fully recycled powders and zero waste,” he tells us and while he admits that is still some time away, some practical commercial initiatives have already taken place, starting with the industry’s first certified carbon neutral powder, a PA11, developed by ALM and Arkema, that EOS presented at last year’s Formnext.
“We have been offering PA11 for 15-20 years,” Glasser says. “Initially it was for its material properties but over the past five to six years we have seen a different need, where material properties are combined with sustainability requirements. We now have a great opportunity as we are seeing large contract manufacturers position themselves as sustainable manufacturing partner. At the same time, this is what we all want: to secure the planet and improve people’s lives. It all sits very well together”.
Made from castor beans, PA11 is not just a more sustainable type of nylon but also a great example of a global collaboration to improve the entire material supply chain through the well-known Pragati Project. Launched in May 2016 and driven by a baseline survey of more than 1,000 castor farmers in Gujarat, India, where the majority of the world’s castor supply originates, the project saw founding members Arkema, BASF, Jayant Agro-Organics (along with implementation partner Solidaridad) collaborate to enable sustainable castor crop production. The initiative focused on using good agricultural practices to increase yield and farmer income; efficiently using water resources and maintaining soil fertility; driving the adoption of good waste management practices and enabling better health and safety practices, respecting human rights.
“This means that we want to have sustainable production while also benefiting local communities,” Glasser concludes. “Having this first carbon neutral polymer powder on the market is just the first step, it’s a good start for the industry, but of course much more has to be done. We need to work on the entire workflow, both on the polymer and metal side of things.”
Responsible by design
When looking more broadly at the AM process itself, Glasser points out that “the technology from EOS, or from most additive manufacturing processes, is responsible by design. We learned that AM can help with sustainability both in terms of product innovation, by driving adoption, and supply chain innovation, by implementing a digital value chain. We can now implement purpose-driven design with complex geometries and lightweight parts. We can have customization, such as in eyewear products, along with a ‘responsible value chain’. Almost every day we speak about this with customers looking for on-demand, decentralized production.”
Decentralization is key as it ensures an uninterrupted supply chain but circularity is also a very important topic, for example in the footwear industry. By 2030 shoes will have to use 100% recycled materials. As circularity becomes more important, 3D printing will play a bigger role in production.
“Along with transparency and information, we need more research on how to make materials, machines and applications more sustainable. We’re working closely with our suppliers and customers,” Hannappel says. “At some point there needs to be more collaboration among competitors as well, generating a scaling effect. As the AM industry grows, all the good things we see on a small scale will have a much greater impact.
“On the hardware system front, there is work to be done in terms of energy efficiency, material efficiency, waste production, and refresh rate. One key aspect to consider is that, much like DfAM, sustainability should begin in the design phase. To support clients in this area, we can exclusively anticipate that EOS is developing a Carbon Calculator that will contain information from both systems and powders to give customers a clear estimate on their application’s carbon footprint. This will be presented at the upcoming Formnext trade show.”
Making energy work
According to Glasser, AM contributes to more local, sustainable, resilient and flexible production. One is that, if you consider the entire supply chain, The other, perhaps even more interestingly, is by rapidly enabling applications that can dramatically reduce energy consumption. “For example – Glasser reveals – we have an ongoing project with a partner to develop an air conditioning system for private use which has up ten times lower energy consumption. A private air conditioner costs around 2,000 euro and the cost of energy at normal prices were also about 2,000 euros per year. If we can reduce energy consumption to 500 or even to 200 euro per year, even if the newly developed system cost up to 3,000 euro, it would bring significant benefits, not just economic but also environmental.”
These types of innovative applications represent a great opportunity for additive manufacturing thanks to both more advanced functional geometries and rapid iteration of design. If you combine improvements in terms of material and processes, such as, for example, reducing the support structure in metal PBF (something that EOS is actively working on and will be presenting soon) we can further decrease costs and improve sustainability. Glasser also points out that while polymer powders are more easily recyclable and reusable than metal powders, the pain point is in the energy-intensive atomization process. That’s why EOS invested in Graz-based Metalpine with the aim to cooperate more closely in the joint development of innovative and sustainable metal powders, leveraging the Austrian start-up’s atomization technology which requires less energy.
“If you look across all the countries in my area of responsibility, Europe, Middle East and Africa,” Glasser says, “there is a growing interest in sustainability, renewable energy and electrification initiatives for solar farms, wind energy or e-mobility and battery applications. Any innovation center that is opened in these countries with governmental support is bound to have a major focus on sustainable practices. AM companies will need to work closely with governments to continue in this direction.”