Comparative Cradle-to-Gate Life Cycle Assessment of HP MJF 3D Printing and Injection Molding
Proponents of additive manufacturing frequently advertise the potential sustainability benefits of the technology over conventional manufacturing methods, but current life cycle assessments (LCA) lack evidence for industrial-level production volumes to support these claims. The recent development and introduction of HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology shows promise for higher volume production than other 3D printers on the market; however, no LCA on the MJF technology exists in publicly available literature. This study fills the gap in current additive manufacturing LCAs to improve decision-making in plastic part manufacturing. This assessment investigated the cradle-to-gate life cycle energy consumption and environmental impact of HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printing technology in comparison to injection molding across production quantities ranging from 100 to 100,000 parts for a plastic product. This analysis leveraged secondary data from various sources, including HP MJF technical documents, communications with HP representatives, published LCA/LCI literature, the ecoinvent database, and Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulation Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) 2019 model. This study modeled process parameters, input, and outputs using SimaPro LCA software and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Results of the analysis indicate that HP’s MJF 3D printing technology emits less greenhouse gas emissions than injection molding at quantities fewer than 500 parts. The major factors contributing to the environmental impacts for the MJF technology are electricity consumption during printing and material loss during post-processing. Sensitivity analyses with manufacturing facilities powered by a photovoltaic plant shows that the breakeven environmental impact between MJF and injection molding only increases to approximately 3,000 parts as a result of MJF’s higher rate of material loss than injection molding. On the basis of sustainability, this study shows that HP MJF 3D printing cannot yet displace industrial-level production of plastics parts that are capable of being injection molded.
Michael London, MBA, MS (SusSys)