3D printing and circular economy

Following our earlier post about our paper being accepted, we’re pleased to see that Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agendais now online in pre-publication format. If you haven’t taken a look at it yet, maybe you should do now?

Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agenda

Mélanie Despeisse, Martin Baumers, Phil Brown, Fiona Charnley, Simon Ford, Alysia Garmulewicz, Scott Knowles, Tim Minshall, Letizia Mortara, Felix Reed-Tsochas and Jonathan Rowley


The circular economy (CE) aims to radically improve resource efficiency by eliminating the concept of waste and leading to a shift away from the linear take-make-waste model. In a CE, resources are flowing in a circular manner either in a biocycle (biomass) or technocycle (inorganic materials). While early studies indicate that 3D printing (3DP) holds substantial promise for sustainability and the creation of a CE, there is no guarantee that it will do so. There is great uncertainty regarding whether the current trajectory of 3DP adoption is creating more circular material flows or if it is leading to an alternative scenario in which less eco-efficient localised production, demands for customised goods, and a higher rate of product obsolescence combine to bring about increased resource consumption. It is critical that CE principles are embedded into the new manufacturing system before the adoption of 3DP reaches a critical inflection point in which negative practices become entrenched. This paper, authored by both academic and industry experts, proposes a research agenda to determine enablers and barriers for 3DP to achieve a CE. We explore the two following overarching questions to discover what specific issues they entail: (1) How can a more distributed manufacturing system based on 3DP create a circular economy of closed-loop material flows? (2) What are the barriers to a circular 3D printing economy? We specifically examine six areas—design, supply chains, information flows, entrepreneurship, business models and education—with the aim of formulating a research agenda to enable 3DP to reach its full potential for a CE.

[Image source: Mélanie Despeisse]

Introducing the 3DP-RDM Feasibility Studies: 3D Printing Production Planning

Following the recent feasibility study competition, the 3DP-RDM network is funding four projects in 2016. In this series of blog posts we introduce the four studies. Today we introduce the final study, “3D Printing Production Planning (3DPPP): reactive manufacturing execution driving re-distributed manufacturing”, which is being led by Dr Martin Baumers at the University of Nottingham.

As an emerging manufacturing technology, Additive Manufacturing (AM) is demonstrating significant opportunities across a wide range of industrial sectors. Among the advantages of the technology are an ability to generate complex functional geometries and the technology’s efficiency in the manufacture of small numbers of products.

In most industries, however, AM faces the challenge of substituting, or integrating with, conventional manufacturing technologies, which are normally operated in a centralised location. Among the reasons for the dominance of centralised manufacturing are economies of scale, allowing the amortization of substantial costs over large volumes of products for the global marketplace. Additionally, the ability to implement suitable supply chain configurations has evolved from being an afterthought to a core capability for manufacturing businesses.

Viewing the work flow of AM in this context reveals a puzzle: the current process for allocating build requirements to individual (potentially re-distributed) AM systems, and thereby configuring the AM supply chain, relies on isolated and disconnected decisions on the operator/technician level. This is not indicative of efficient manufacturing order execution and effective supply chains.

As a collaboration between the 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) and the Automated Scheduling and Planning Research Group (ASAP), both at the University of Nottingham, this project is exploring the feasibility of adopting an optimisation-based manufacturing execution methodology that complements the strengths of AM. Essentially, the idea is to replace the existing process by a combined automated “all-in-one” production planning tool driven by a set of interchangeable build volume packing and scheduling heuristics. Considering a wide range of general and location-related aspects, the tool allows the determination of the best AM system for a build request, including the benefits resulting from re-distribution.

The tool under development is called the 3D Packing Research Application Tool (yes, the acronym is “3DPackRAT”…). In essence, it is a custom developed manufacturing execution platform to explore and deploy various algorithms, heuristics and policies to optimise the work flow in AM, both for the centralised and re-distributed settings. This should allow the release of significant additional value by making the process more effective, potentially enabling adopters to leapfrog the gradual evolution of supply chain management in response to AM as a new technology. More information, including a video walk through of the demonstrator, is available on the project website.

Project Group at the University of Nottingham: Martin Baumers, Ender Ozcan, Jason Atkin, Warren Jackson, Wenwen Li

Industrial advisers: Susan Reiblein (HP Enterprise), David Knight (Knightgraphics)

[Image source: Martin Baumers]

3D printing and sustainability article published in Journal of Cleaner Production

We’re delighted to announce that Simon Ford and Mélanie Despeisse’s paper “Additive manufacturing and sustainability: an exploratory study of the advantages and challenges” has now been published in volume 137 of the Journal of Cleaner Production.

As our project is funded by the EPSRC, the article is open access so free to download. So please download and read the paper and then let us know what you think.


The emergence of advanced manufacturing technologies, coupled with consumer demands for more customised products and services, are causing shifts in the scale and distribution of manufacturing. In this paper, consideration is given to the role of one such advanced manufacturing process technology: additive manufacturing. The consequences of adopting this novel production technology on industrial sustainability are not well understood and this exploratory study draws on publically available data to provide insights into the impacts of additive manufacturing on sustainability. Benefits are found to exist across the product and material life cycles through product and process redesign, improvements to material input processing, make-to-order component and product manufacturing, and closing the loop. As an immature technology, there are substantial challenges to these benefits being realised at each stage of the life cycle. This paper summarises these advantages and challenges, and discusses the implications of additive manufacturing on sustainability in terms of the sources of innovation, business models, and the configuration of value chains.

Download the paper here.

[Image source: Mélanie Despeisse]

Phoebe Li interviewed at 3D Printing Innovation Centre in Qingdao

Phoebe Li, the project lead at the University of Sussex for the 3DP-RDM feasibility study “A feasibility study of mass customisation governance: regulation, liability, and intellectual property of re-distributed manufacturing in 3D printing” was recently interviewed by a 3DP online platform at the China Headquarters of the 3D Printing Innovation Centre in Qingdao. In the interview Dr Li introduces her studies in 3D printing.

The interview, in Chinese, can be found here.

[Image source]

We Can Make: re-imagining manufacturing in Bristol

WHEN? Thursday, 22 September 2016 from 18:00 to 20:00 (BST)

WHERE? Filwood Green Business Park – 1 Filwood Park Lane Off Hengrove Way, Bristol, BS4 1ET, United Kingdom – View Map


Smart factories, digital fabrication technologies, new materials and changes in distribution networks are radically re-shaping who makes what, where and how.

WE CAN MAKE explores how Bristol can re-localise and grow manufacturing in the city:

  • Can we create pro-manufacturing communities where the things that are needed, from jobs to housing, are locally produced?
  • How can the new manufacturing landscape make the most of existing infrastructure, networks and know-how?
  • What policy decisions and investment in skills and infrastructure need to be made to ensure that places like South Bristol don’t miss out?

This event brings together leading manufacturers, decision makers, thinkers, makers and artists to share new research and ideas. Contributors include:

Karin Smyth MP: on supporting skills and jobs through re-localised manufacturing to create opportunities for all.

Chris McMahon, University of Bristol: sharing new research that maps and de-mystifies the realities of re-distributed manufacturing in South Bristol.

James Tooze, Royal College of Arts: on makerspaces and rethinking the products and services we want and need.

Carolyn Hassan, Knowle West Media Centre: on creating pro-manufacturing communities than can make their own future.

Nick Howard, Baileys of Bristol Caravans: the manufacturing revolution beyond the ‘usual suspects’ (TBC)

 6-6:30pm: Meet the Makers Open Studios: meet the people and get hands-on with tech and tools

6:30-7:30pm: Panel discussion

7:30-8pm: Networking, drinks and Polar Ice Pops

Register on Eventbrite. For more details contact Melissa Mean: melissa.mean@kwmc.org.uk or 0117 903 0444.

[Image source]

Exploring how 3D printing is changing the world around us