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The circular potential of 3D printing

According to a study by ADEME additive manufacturing and fab labs are likely to boost repair services.

Repairing objects is one of the pillars in the circular economy. It extends the life of products, and so reduces the environmental impacts of their production and the subsequent management at the end of their life.

But repairs are still infrequent. Consumers are not sufficiently aware of the possibility of repairs and currently the majority of products are not necessarily repairable.

Digital innovation can help drive positive change. This is in any case the analysis of France’s environment and energy management agency (ADEME), which in June 2017 published the first French study on repair practices using 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) and in digital fabrication workshops – fab labs. It has reviewed the current situation and proposes courses of action.

Obstacles

ADEME believes these new technologies have the potential to remove some of the obstacles that currently limit the development of repair services. 3D printing could reduce the cost of spare parts when they are no longer being produced, and mean spare parts will be more readily available if they happen to be out of stock.

By making digital production tools and the know-how of the fab lab community of enthusiasts available to the general public, repairing becomes more straightforward.

In addition, the innovative and transformative nature of these technologies and fab labs means they can drive the development of traditional repair practices. 3D printing technologies are evolving rapidly and could potentially lead to rethinking the way certain products are repaired, for example electronic products, which tend to be very obsolescence-sensitive.

Hosting a community of do-it-yourself enthusiasts, fab labs offer a conducive environment for innovation and are ideally positioned to tackle repair issues.

New approach

And although the simplified analysis of the environmental impacts carried out as part of the ADEME study doesn’t mean to say that 3D printing is more environmentally friendly than traditional processes, its interest lies elsewhere.

According to ADEME, digital manufacturing encourages the emergence of new decentralized production approaches: it prompts new actors to move into the sector and encourages the established players to produce the spare parts needed for repairing their products.

 

SEB and Boulanger at the forefront
ADEME emphasizes that the production of spare parts using 3D printing is still marginal and that it is not yet part of the after-sales service offered by manufacturers and distributors. Some, however, like SEB and Boulanger, have made a start. SEB, which undertakes to repair its products for ten years after the point at which the product is no longer sold, wants to ensure the supply of spare parts using 3D printing to cover the last few years of the warranty. As for Boulanger, it has launched the Happy3d platform, which provides the general public with digital plans for a selection of spare parts under its three own brands of Listo, Miogo and EssentielB.

 

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