3D printer during work

How Sustainable Is 3D Printing in Reality?

Galina Spasova (Senior Research Analyst)

There are many discussions about whether 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is a more sustainable alternative to traditional manufacturing. We could write pages and pages about it, but instead, let’s take a look at a quick summary of how 3D printing affects people and the environment.

Is 3D Printing More Sustainable than Traditional Manufacturing?

There are four main indicators:


  • Some technologies, such as FDM/FFF, that use filament can reduce plastic waste by only using the material needed for the production of the final part and minor support structures.
  • Other technologies, such as binder jet/powder bed, can create more waste as the excess powder cannot always be reused.


  • Ultrafine particles produced during FDM printing are hazardous to health.
  • There are a number of office-ready 3D printers on the market with sophisticated filtration systems that can capture all toxic particles.
  • Distributed additive manufacturing can reduce emissions from shipping by printing parts on site.


  • Current 3D printing methods use the same amount of energy as traditional manufacturing, according to Richard D’Aveni’s The Pan-Industrial Revolution (Boston, 2018).
  • 3D printed solar cells for solar panels show higher efficiency rates and are more cost-effective to produce, which may speed up the transition to alternative energy sources.


  • The 3D printing industry accounts for a large quantity of plastic by-products (failed prints, structural support, etc.).
  • Many plastics can be recycled and reused, and some 3D printing materials are biodegradable.
  • Metal materials and powders for 3D printing can also be kept in circulation.


As with most things, there are two sides to each factor. Taking a limited view and focusing only on the final part, there’s no need for such heavy post-production such as CNC milling, which strips down excess material. But failed prints and support structures or powder, depending on the process, are by-products of 3D printing and may go to waste.

The additive manufacturing process does not use less energy than traditional manufacturing — according to some studies, it was actually 50–100 times higher. But it does have lower emission levels, and even though recyclable materials can be used for 3D printing, the technology itself does not guarantee that this will always be the case.

Nonetheless, more manufacturers are adopting sustainable practices, and some are hoping to take it to the next level or, should we say, planet?

3D Printing Rockets on Mars … Sustainably, of Course

Sustainable production is a hot topic among heavy industries such as manufacturing, automotive, and aerospace. Many industries are already using 3D printing and are now looking to augment their efforts by switching to sustainable materials.

Californian aerospace manufacturer Relativity Space announced in June that it had partnered with sustainable 3D printed metals provider 6K to produce rocket components from reusable materials. Relativity is using large-scale 3D printing to manufacture the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket, Teran 1, with a hundredfold reduction in the number of components compared with traditional rockets.

Besides improving sustainability indicators, reducing the number of parts in engine combustion chambers, reaction control thrusters, turbopumps, igniters, and vehicle pressurization systems also enhances the spacecraft’s reliability. Relativity’s not-so-secret ambition is to someday 3D print a rocket on Mars.

the world's first 3d printed rocket

Most 3D printing technologies already reduce waste by using almost 100% of the material for part production. Metal 3D printing such as powder-bed fusion, however, can result in up to 70% material waste. By bringing in recycled materials, manufacturers can move one step closer to green manufacturing.

6K Additive is a materials provider promising “zero loss” of materials by using microwave plasma technology at temperatures up to 6,000°F (around 3,316°C). The sustainability element to this process creates a closed loop by following the principles of circular economy by reusing scrap metals and failed prints to produce premium powders used for 3D printing of new parts. Compared with conventional powder production methods, 6K’s plasma technology reduces energy consumption by two-thirds and creates no wastewater.

sustainable materials, keeping manufacturing waste in circulation

Key Takeaways

There’s a lot of debate about whether 3D printing is actually a more sustainable option to traditional manufacturing. In short, it depends on the specific use, and as with any technology, the monitoring of key performance indicators is key.

3D printing can potentially help manufacturers to reduce their environmental footprint, especially when integrated in the overall sustainability strategy and adhering to circular-economy principles.


If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact Galina Spasova, or head over to https://uk.idc.com and drop your details in the form on the top right.


hospital care covid-19

Reinventing Hospital Care During COVID-19

Adriana Allocato (Research Manager, Health Insights, IDC Europe)

In the past three months, we’ve talked with hospital CIOs in some of the hardest-hit regions in Italy. We’ve discussed how they have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, their main challenges, and what they have learned from it.

One of the main takeaways has been their passion for their work and their great sense of responsibility toward the community. At the same time, an agile but redundant infrastructure, along with the adoption of simple solutions at scale, have proven to be essential weapons in the battle against COVID-19.

New Challenges for Hospitals

Hospitals have been challenged to the limit by the pandemic, and have been forced to change everything. In a matter of days, they had to reorganise their work environment, processes, care capacity, supplies and workforce.

They had to figure out, quickly, how to get from the unsustainable workloads and chaos brought about by the pandemic to a sustainable, viable way of operating in the medium to long term. They had to develop a strategy to deliver high-quality care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients — a strategy supported by established systems and processes, without having to constantly improvise.

The main challenges have been:

  • Equipping rapidly reorganised hospitals, and in particular supporting new intensive care unit (ICU) deployments. Hospitals have been facing a shortage of all kinds of supplies stemming from weaknesses in their sourcing strategies. Hospital IT departments have had to provision employees for remote working and set up new COVID-19 departments, including new ICUs. This included enabling connectivity, medical documentation, device monitoring and resource management in extremely challenging conditions.
  • Managing emergency as well as routine work while keeping IT staff safe. The pressures brought about by COVID-19 have put hospitals and their IT departments under unprecedented levels of strain, and CIOs have had reorganise their departmental resources to ensure organisational and operational redundancy.
  • Real-time access and usability of patient data for hospital management and population health purposes. To understand and better plan for health service demand, decision makers need a robust operating picture of the virus: how it’s spreading, where it might spread next and how that will affect healthcare services. They also need to know where the system is likely to face strain first, be that ventilators, beds or staff sickness.
  • Executing strategy and rapidly implementing new organisational setups and processes. Hospitals are experiencing a very heavy workload in what is now the “new normal” work setting. They risk losing control over the execution of the established strategies, so communications from the crisis unit needs to reach every part of the organisation in an unambiguous and effective way.

The Role of Hospital CIOs and Their Recommendations

Like many other frontline workers, hospital CIOs have had to cope with emotionally difficult challenges and unprecedented uncertainty. With their teams, however, they’ve been able to work alongside doctors and nurses to understand what is most urgently needed on site. They have also supported hospital management by generating data for informed decision making.

CIOs have shared with us their recommendations on how best to support clinicians and nurses and ensure operational resilience. These include:

  • Enhancing supply chain flexibility and planning for an emergency IT and medical device sourcing strategy
  • Reorganising IT department resources for organisational and operational redundancy
  • Leveraging business intelligence systems extensively for real-time insights
  • Setting a clear strategy to enable an effective “chain of command” to support internal and external communication

The Next Normal for Healthcare

The pandemic is fast-moving, but so are the efforts to address it. Some of these lessons learned will be critical for healthcare organisations when it comes to surviving and thriving in the “next normal”.

These lessons, among other topics, will be discussed at the IDC European Healthcare Executive Digital Forum in October. In an interactive environment, European healthcare leaders will discuss how the digital acceleration experienced in the past few months can be a launchpad for strategic transformation. For further information on how to join the Summit contact Helena Chappell.

To learn more about reinventing hospital care, see our report IDC PeerScape: Hospital CIOs Peer Insights to Help Mitigate the COVID-19 Outbreak, or contact Adriana Allocato, Silvia Piai, Giulia Besana or Nino Giguashvili.


Digital Twins and Digital Threads: The Innovative Way to Track Product Life Cycles

Jan Burian (Research Director, IDC Manufacturing Insights)

The interesting thing about modern products is that smart technology can enhance them. That makes them traceable throughout their life cycle, and technologies such as cloud platforms enable the products to be tracked during their life journey.

Some of the key enablers of this are IIoT and digital platforms, which provide engineers with information about the product’s conditions and parameters. The product can then be tracked during its complete life cycle, including design, industrialization, serial production, and servicing.

We’re talking here about the closed loop of product information, and a vital technology here are digital threads — bridging the silos between life-cycle phases, data, and processes. With digital threads, the relevant data is captured at each step and then fed back to engineers. System and design engineers can leverage the information from contextual issues and field performance and, as a follow-up, can redesign or even improve the product’s design and features.

Using information gathered from the digital threads is an effective way to improve KPIs, including shorter time to market, reduced development and operations costs, and improved customer propositions. Utilizing IoT, AI, analytics, and new business models, the manufacturers can build as well, using the generated data to sell services as well as products, for example.

And let’s not forget the positive impact on environmental sustainability. We often talk about reuse and recycling strategies, and these are among the top priorities for manufacturers in the “better normal.”

Value of Digital Twins

There is definitely value in digital twins as well. IDC defines digital twins as virtual models of a product or asset connected to the physical prototype or instance via IoT. Digital twins visualize data flows and provide collaboration across engineering, operations, supply chains, and servicing.

According to IDC:

Digital Threads and Digital Twins Working Together

How well would the two solutions work together? Would it be better to run them side by side, or could they be combined to provide even greater value? The answer is, we’re not sure yet.

Like a digital thread, the value of a digital twin is in being a single source of information on a product’s conditions, parameters, and design. And this is where we find the main difference between the two — digital twins should use real-time data that comes from the real product and the operations environment.

Unlike digital threads, digital twins do not need to be based on information provided in real time to the user. There’s a reason for this: Engineers use product life-cycle data to develop and improve products, but most of the time they don’t work in real-time mode. There’s a significant overlap, but both solutions use similar technologies as a single source of information, such as IoT digital platforms, PLM, ERP, or CRM. And that’s a very good start.

Combining Digital Twins and Digital Threads

We see obvious synergies in combining the two solutions. Digital threads can connect products and process digital twins, and the whole life cycle of the product could be covered that way.

Having said that, the digital model of the physical product could then be recognized as sort of an end-to-end traceability carrier of digital information, streaming the performance and process data through the IoT platform to PLM in real time.

For users, the value comes from data analysis outputs. The outputs are based on AI/ML, which are being turned into insights in a touchless way.

Establishing the digital thread through the use of digital twins is challenging, and there will be obstacles on the way. A typical challenge is crossing the siloed life-cycle stages, particularly when the product is being used or operated by the customer.

Isolated digital twin and digital thread technologies provide significant benefits by themselves. But the real value comes when the technologies are integrated. Users benefit from the end-to-end life-cycle visibility of the product provided in real time, and manufacturers get a powerful tool to improve their business agility and resiliency. This is exactly what they need in today’s rapidly changing world.

DAE: A Platform Connecting Technology Providers with Technology users and purchasers

To encourage a dialogue between the senior IT decision makers and practitioners and technology providers about optimizing value from IIoT Data, IDC is launching Digital Accelerate Events (DAE) as a content marketing platform supporting valuable relationship building and lead generation capabilities.

DAE offers access to IDC’s senior IT decision maker Community in Europe. Executives are currently in need of orientation and defining new partnerships. We are hosting our European IIoT Digital Summit on September 24 on the DAE platform, educating C level IT and LoB heads  and engaging them in urgently needed conversations that will build the pipeline for your future business.

For further information on how to join the Summit contact Helena Chappell


Digitization: Leading Games Into a Digital World

James Ball (Research Analyst)
Liam Hall (Senior Research Analyst)

The gaming industry has seen a digital revolution. With improvements to various technologies and industries boosting the gaming market size, we can see this digitization first-hand in the hardware that consumers can buy.

In the PC market, for example, pre-built machines increasingly do not come with optical drives, while self-built computers, especially smaller towers, don’t even include the room to fit these drives. Instead, they save the internal space for cable management or hard-drive space.

We’re also starting to see this trend in consoles. The digital editions announced for both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X are the most recent examples. This departure from a more physical dependency on gaming is more proof of the rise of digitization, but digitization is not only taking place on the hardware side.

Digitization Is Occurring on the Software Side Too

One of the biggest examples of software digitization is in-game patches. Although a staple in gaming for many years, recently we have seen an increased focus on specific patch types. Day-one patches, for example, which are a great way to fix any bugs or glitches right from the release day, enable developers to work while people play. This creates some tension, however, as improvements to graphics and the increased complexity of digital systems lead to bigger game sizes.

Bigger file sizes equal more wait time for gamers, especially those with below-average internet speed. This can be problematic now, but will become less of an issue with the introduction of 5G, which will enable greater download speeds as well as increased loading times and user interface (UI) and hardware improvements.

Patching is also a great way to use digitization for downloadable content (DLC) — developers can now pre-install DLC and through a small patch activate the content, removing the need for many patches.

Data-Driven Benefits

Digitization has also helped developers to gain great analytical data from the games. With many games having online features or the need for constant internet access, the data about players and their habits is valuable information for developers.

This can be particularly helpful for developers pushing the Games-as-a-service (GaaS) model, benefiting both developers and gamers. They can utilize this wealth of data on which areas are performing above and below expectations, and on the purchasing habits of the entire subscriber base, to make quick, informed decisions.

As the younger generation are more accepting of digitization and are not as nostalgic toward physical disks, subscription-based services and digital copies will only continue to grow. This means there will only be a greater wealth of this data.

Not only does digitization help developers gather information, it also helps the games themselves produce information. Games with procedurally generated worlds and pinpoint detail are now possible without the limitations of trying to fit them onto a disk. Digitization has enabled developers and their games to be uncompromising, meaning that players can experience the whole scope of a game.


Digitization is a good way to provide content to the consumer. Within gaming, this means no physical disks, direct updates, procedural generation, and data processing. But it also puts a greater strain on players’ internet bandwidth and their ability to play games online all the time, even for single-player experiences.


Read more:

Will the Rise of Games-as-a-Service Lead to Longer Game Lifecycles?

Development Trends and Risks in the Gaming Market

Gaming in Lockdown: Good for Cloud?

If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact James Ball or Liam Hall, or head over to https://uk.idc.com and drop your details in the form on the top right.