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Facilitating Sustainable Material Decisions: A Case Study of 3D Printing Materials


The rapid increase in material use and goods produced in the global market is leading to harmful consequences for the environment and for human health. As consumption continues to increase, it is crucial to address the impacts associated with decisions about choices of materials used. Integrating safer material decisions during the product design and development process will lead to less harmful environmental and human health effects. Moreover, the sustainable performance of products depends on the choices of materials that go into those products.

This research seeks ways in which sustainable performance might become a more integral part of the materials choice process and aims to facilitate sustainable material choices during the product development process. Initially, the goal of the research was to create a tool that maps the trade-offs between material costs, performance and environmental impact, using 3D printing materials as a case study. Thirty-six 3D printing material filaments were examined for this research. For each filament, it’s description, base composition, mechanical properties, printing guidelines and hazards were collected. As empirical research progressed, however, it became clear that there are significant barriers to integrating sustainable material choices into the product development process that must be overcome in order to do so. This dissertation aims to clearly identify those barriers, including the significant complexity associated with gathering accurate data to feed a tool. 

The tool created here is presented as a set of specifications for how a tool should work, with representations of outputs that have been tested with the potential audience for the tool.  The dissertation thus addresses not only what a tool would have to do, but the changes needed in the system that surrounds such a tool to allow it to truly address material sustainability.

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