John Hornick has been a counselor and litigator in the Washington, D.C. office of the Finnegan IP law firm (one of the large IP firms in the world) for over thirty years, where he has litigated close to 100 IP cases. He founded Finnegan’s 3D Printing Working Group and advises clients about how 3D printing may affect their businesses. In his new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World (available on Amazon or Kindle), Mr. Hornick proposes that 3D printing holds promise not only for niche fabrication but also in spurring a green revolution.
MPT: Industrial applications for 3D printers are growing every year, especially for tasks requiring customization, but you say there are untapped benefits users are just now discovering. How can 3D printers reduce our environmental impact?
John Hornick: As I explain in my new book, 3D printing is greener than traditional manufacturing in at least three ways. It uses less material to make a part, uses less energy, and can have a much shorter supply chain than parts made in traditional ways.
Unlike traditional machines, which cut or grind away as much as 90 percent of the feedstock, 3D printers generate less waste because products are made from little more than the amount of material that ends up in the finished part. Because 3D printers make parts layer-by-layer, they use only as much material as needed to make each layer.
Manufacturing with 3D printers can also have a smaller energy footprint than manufacturing with traditional machines. A product can be 3D printed using far fewer machines, resulting in less energy usage.
3D printing can also reduce the energy footprint over the life of the part. For example, the fuel nozzles GE 3D prints for its LEAP aircraft engine are 25 percent lighter than their traditionally made predecessors. The lighter parts save energy, in the form of jet fuel, over the life of the parts.
MPT: What are some of the key differences—and advantages—3D printing offers over traditional manufacturing processes?
John Hornick: Traditional manufacturing depends on mass production and its economies of scale, and low labor costs, which are barriers to entry for would-be competitors. 3D printing eliminates those barriers because a single machine can make an entire part or product, fully assembled, and one worker may run an entire roomful of 3D printers.
Also, it is no more expensive, per part, to 3D print one part versus a million parts, to customize every part instead of making them all the same, and to make highly complex parts, which eliminates the need for economies of scale and low labor costs. This means there is no advantage and maybe no need for centralized mass production where labor costs are low.
MPT: How would you compare the energy needs of 3D printing with those of conventional manufacturing?

John Hornick: I talked about how 3D printing can reduce the energy footprint of 3D printed parts. But some people have argued that 3D printers use more energy to build a part than traditional machines. For example, they say that the lasers of metal 3D printers use far more energy than traditional milling and drilling machines. They may be right if you look only at the energy used by the 3D printer, but the all-in energy footprint of 3D printing should be smaller than that of traditional machines. Such all-in costs include the costs of making the manufacturing machines. Making a part with traditional methods requires multiple machines, all of which must be manufactured, and all of which have their own energy footprint. All of those machines also gobble energy while they make parts. The all-in costs also include the price of the materials, including the quantity wasted by traditional machines.
MPT: Where do you see the future of 3D printing?
John Hornick: In five years, most industry will be affected by 3D printing, especially parts-based businesses. Over those five years, companies from outside the 3D printing industry will enter it, like HP, Toshiba, Canon, and Xerox. Over the next ten years, industrial and consumer 3D printing technology will move closer together. Ten years from now, most homes will have a 3D printer. It may be a general purpose machine or it may be a purpose-built machine that has a particular, limited function. ◆
Did you enjoy this article?
Subscribe to the FREE Digital Edition of Modern Pumping Today Magazine!