Workshop on a strategic sustainability assessment of Additive Manufacturing at GKN Aerospace

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a hot topic and the expectations on its impact in resource consumption and waste reduction are high. Ideally, only the material that would make up the product would be needed and there would be almost no waste, resulting in a low buy-to-fly ratio. Also, AM would provide designers with much more freedom and allow optimized and complex structures without additional cost. This could in turn result in lower material consumption, less weight, and improved efficiency. AM also offers great opportunities for remanufacturing, upgrading, and repair. But is AM the perfect sustainable solution? What sustainability impacts does AM have and could it be improved? And how can you assess the sustainability impact of a process in a systematic way in the first place?

That were some of the main questions that the STOSIP team together with a group of industry practitioners were elaborating on in a three-hour workshop at GKN aerospace in Trollhättan. After a mini-lecture about sustainability by Sophie Hallstedt and an introduction to AM technologies at GKN by Johanna Wallin Nylander, the workshop participants started to work on a sustainability assessment of AM. A method called Strategic Life-Cycle Assessment (SLCA) was used to qualitatively identify hot-spots of sustainability impact for powder bed, blown powder, and wire AM technologies, considering the ecological, social, and economic dimensions. The groups even went through a list of detailed questions on potential sustainability issues of AM before discussing opportunities to improve the processes.

The workshop did not only result in a pile of posters and post-it notes, but also really fueled the discussions on how environmental, social, and economic benefits can go hand in hand. For the STOSIP team, it was a great opportunity to both get expert knowledge about different AM technologies first hand, and to test the application of the SLCA method for a real case. The GKN participants enjoyed having some time to reflect about AM and sustainability and to learn from each other and the STOSIP team.

Additional sustainability assessment methods are going to be applied in the upcoming months to provide more insights on the question of how sustainable AM is and how it can be improved.

18 October 2017