Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of SLS and mFFF Additive Manufacturing Techniques for the Production of a Metal Specimen

Materials (Basel). 2023 Dec 23;17(1):78. doi: 10.3390/ma17010078.

Abstract

This work is part of a research project aimed at developing a bio-based binder, composed mainly of polylactic acid (PLA), to produce Ti6Al4V feedstock suitable for use in MAM (Metal Additive Manufacturing) via mFFF (metal Fused Filament Fabrication), in order to manufacture a titanium alloy specimen. While in Bragaglia et al. the mechanical characteristics of this sample were analyzed, the aim used of this study is to compare the mentioned mFFF process with one of the most used MAM processes in aerospace applications, known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method. Despite the excellent properties of the products manufactured via SLS, this 3D printing technology involves high upfront capital costs while mFFF is a cheaper process. Moreover, the mFFF process has the advantage of potentially being exported for production in microgravity or weightless environments for in-space use. Nevertheless, most scientific literature shows comparisons of the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printing stage with other AM technologies, and there are no comparative LCA "Candle to Gate" studies with mFFF processes to manufacture the same metal sample. Therefore, both MAM processes are analyzed with the LCA "Candle to Gate" method, from the extraction of raw materials to the production of the finished titanium alloy sample. The main results demonstrate a higher impact (+50%) process for mFFF and higher electrical energy consumption (7.31 kWh) compared to SLS (0.32 kWh). After power consumption, the use of titanium becomes the main contributor of Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Abiotic Depletion Potential (ADP) for both processes. Finally, an alternative scenario is evaluated in which the electrical energy is exclusively generated through photovoltaics. In this case, the results show how the mFFF process develops a more sustainable outcome than SLS.

Keywords: 3D printing; LCA; MAM; Selective Laser Sintering; metal Fused Filament Fabrication.