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Value chain-wide energy efficiency potentials of additive manufacturing with metals – some preliminary hypotheses

Panel: 4. Technology, products and systems

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Andreas Pastowski, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany
Georg Kobiela, Wuppertal Institute, Germany


For some time, 3D printing has been a major buzzword of innovation in industrial production. It was considered a game changer concerning the way industrial goods are produced. There were early expectations that it might reduce the material, energy and transport intensity of value chains. However for quite a while, the main real world applications of additive manufacturing (AM) have been some rapid prototyping and the home-based production of toys made from plastics. On this limited basis, any hypotheses regarding likely impacts on industrial energy efficiency appeared to be premature. Notwithstanding the stark contrast between early hype and practical use, the diffusion of AM has evolved to an extent that at least for some applications allows for a preliminary assessment of its likely implications for energy efficiency.

Unlike many cross-cutting energy efficiency technologies, energy use of AM may vary substantially depending on industry considered and material used for processing. Moreover, AM may have much greater repercussions on other stages of value chains than conventional cross-cutting energy efficiency technologies. In case of AM with metals the following potential determinants of energy efficiency come to mind:

• A reduction of material required per unit of product and used during processing;

• Changes in the total number and spatial allocation of certain stages of the value chain; and • End-use energy efficiency of final products.

At the same time, these various streams of impact on energy efficiency may be important drivers for the diffusion of AM with metals. This contribution takes stock of AM with metals concerning applications and processes used as well as early evidence on impacts on energy efficiency and combine this into a systematic overview. It builds on relevant literature and a case study on Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing performed within the REINVENT project.

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