One main factor in creating environmentally sustainable products is the material choice. When choosing materials, we look at where it comes from, what it’s made of, how much energy it takes to get it, ease of replacement, toxicity, life span, required maintenance, and what will happen when it reaches the end of its life. These are very complex choices that have no right or simple answers. We do our best to keep the equation simple by using carefully selected materials that are renewable, recyclable and/or recycled, non-toxic, repairable, and durable.
The Distributed Manufacturing RevolutionAnother main factor that determines the sustainability of a product is the method by which it is produced and distributed. A large part of the environmental impact of a product is the energy wasted in moving stuff around once it is produced. Though the general public rarely considers it, a huge amount of energy and wealth are consumed to get products from factories to warehouses, warehouses to stores, and stores to end users. However, the revolution of computer-driven manufacturing promises to offer a feasible alternative in the near future. Services like 3D printing and laser cutting are only in their infancy, but they offer the promise of a new future for domestic manufacturing as well as a potential for new business models. As these machines become able to build better and more complex products and become more common throughout the country, we will no longer have to look to Asia for all of our manufacturing needs. Instead, we will leverage the digital revolution in a very physical way. The precision and adaptability of computer aided manufacturing (CAM) will allow the same product to be produced on-demand virtually anywhere in customizable sizes and versions. No longer will someone make a hundred thousand hot pink doodads in China, ship them to the US, and hope to sell them to Walmart. Instead, he’ll design and develop a line of doodads and sell the computer files through any store with the right machine. Distributed manufacturing will eventually change the way we do business and the way we use energy. Of course, at the moment, there are at most a handful of machines capable of printing our jewelry. We still ship our jewelry to you the using the postal service and order them from a machine that is relatively far away (CA for laser cutting & Europe for metal printing). However, by using and thereby investing in these technologies now we give them the opportunity to foment a distributed manufacturing revolution.
This term describes a number of different technologies which, until recently, were used exclusively for the production of prototypes and are thus also called “Rapid Prototyping”. The uniting factor is that a computer model is used to drive a machine that applies a material in layers, much like a regular printer. Rather than ink, some thicker material is applied and built up layer upon layer to create a form. Usually at some point during the process heat is applied to the material to make it adhere and solidify. The ability to print in metal is a relatively new development. In steel printing, stainless steel powder is applied in layers and a binder is selectively applied to each layer. Wherever the binder is not applied, the powder does not adhere and is removed and reused. The piece is then fired along with bronze powder. As the organic binder burns off it is replaced by bronze. The parts are polished silver in color and show some slight cratered texturing from the printing layers. These steel parts can then be plated with precious metals to create different colors. 3D printing technologies are so new that they are constantly being developed for different and expanding purposes using an ever-broadening array of materials. Currently, these include various plastics, metals, wax, and even human vascular tissue for medical uses.