Makelab Founders Discuss 3D Printing and Sustainability

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Makelab is a 3D printing service bureau located in New York City and run by Co-Founders and Managing Partners Christina Perla and Manny Mota. The company is passionate about 3D printing customer service, and sustainability; Makelab is looking to use 3D printing to leave a positive imprint on the world rather than a negative, plastic-clogged one.

Perla and Mota employ innovation in all of their business practices, and recently they were both available to speak about their views on 3D printing, sustainability, and how the technology can be used to improve the world.

What kind of sustainable materials do you use to print?

Manny Mota

Manny Mota: “This is interesting because the word ‘sustainable’ really does lend itself to a larger perspective. We really need to take a look at the entire life cycle of the product – what raw materials are sourced, where they are sourced, how do they travel to the manufacturing facility, how long is the trip, what is the fuel emission required for travel from raw material to our hands in Brooklyn, NY, etc. As it stands now, sustainability and 3D printing aren’t perfect, but that’s not to talk about a promising future.”

Christina Perla: “But what we are able to do on our end is create internal workflow systems where we are able to implement smart and sustainable practices on a daily basis in order to lengthen the life cycle of our materials from the moment we get our hands on them. This really goes down to a granular level. For example, if we properly orient parts on our printer beds, we are then able to minimize supports which would reduce print time, minimize support waste, reduce the amount of energy used for that print, and reduce the amount of off-gassing that would naturally occur from the 3D printing process.

“Another sustainable practice we are currently exploring and hope to implement soon is recycling our waste and re-using it for future prints. For FDM machines, we are able to collect all our failed prints, support waste, and raft waste, re-melt it, then re-extrude it into brand new spools of filament. We are then able to use this filament as a ‘Tech’s Choice’ option for a discount on our prices or we can use this filament just for supports and rafts. Utilizing these practices in everyday operations will thus in turn create a sustainable and longer-lasting material life cycle.”

How does 3D printing save energy and improve efficiency over the course of the manufacturing process?

MM: “When comparing production methods from 50, even 25 years ago, the time, labor, energy, and machinery it took to make anything was super laborious. The other thing to consider is where these parts were being manufactured. In the case where prototypes need multiple processes with multiple manufacturers, not only does that double production time, but it also doubles the resources and energy needed to complete the manufacturing. Having 3D printing readily available allows goods to be produced closer to the point of consumption. There are multiple readily available 3D printing service bureaus like Makelab all over the US. These factors help to cut down on travel time and energy needed to get the product closer to the final customer.”

CP: “Another aspect is that e-commerce stores & even storefront retail are able to produce goods on a made-to-order basis. This reduces overstocking and waste of good product.”

How can 3D printing provide solutions to disastrous problems?

CP: “A huge problem we have is ocean plastic. Many of the common types of plastics manufactured today are the same materials as 3D printing filament. Some examples are PETG, commonly used for water bottles, and ABS, commonly used in most injection-molded plastics such as toys. These two examples alone are able to be collected, sorted, melted, then re-made into spools of filament that are ready to be put back into the hands of 3D printer owners.”

[Image: Shutterstock]

How can materials be improved or locally sourced?

Christina Perla

CP: “Every week, we have an immense amount of waste – whether it is a failed print, support material, rafts, etc, we have so much of it. I would love to see an local initiative that helps to gather all the plastic waste from the 3D printing service bureaus in NYC, then manufacture new spools of filament for a discounted cost. It would be a great way to source materials as well as improving the way waste is handled in local communities.”

MM: “Also, creating some sort of circular economy where customers can send back prints that are unused in exchange for credit for future prints is something that we would love to explore and implement at Makelab.”

3D printing is becoming more prevalent when constructing city structures mainly in countries outside the US as the US has been slower than others to adopt 3D printing technology. How can 3D printing maintain and reinforce city structures that may need repairs or upkeep?

MM: “This is a situation where 3D scanning would come into play. If a specific part of an infrastructure needed to be replaced, it could easily be reverse engineered and manufactured in an equally strong and compatible material by 3D scanning it onsite and printing it out. This way, you can avoid having to go back to the manufacturer/retailer to purchase another part. This allows spare parts to be printed in any location by any company which makes it more available and lower costing.”

How can 3D printing provide solutions to housing issues like affordability, sustainability and availability?

CP: “I would love to see more homes being constructed utilizing 3D printing. There are numerous benefits to this – homes are built quicker, there is less labor involved (reducing labor costs), and homes are more readily available in the case of a natural disaster. 3D printing homes would also reduce the amount of manufacturers needed for all the materials needed to construct a home. More materials are on-demand, manufactured when needed, and less waste is produced.”

An artist’s impression of the five 3D printed concrete houses that will be realized in Eindhoven. [Image: Houben/Van Mierlo Architects]

MM: “From another perspective, 3D printing really allows for the ability of curvilinear structures to be built, where standard drywall really only allows for rectangular shapes to be built. Not only are curvilinear structures more interesting, but they are also stronger, lower cost, and shapes of homes are able to be designed in a way to fit a more modular system.

“And if we’re getting really crazy here, I have heard talks of even utilizing 3D printing to build homes on the moon.”

Perla and Mota share the views of many in the 3D printing world about the technology’s potential to impact global issues like housing and the environment, as well as to change the way the world looks at manufacturing. Makelab offers a wide variety of 3D printing services to customers in a range of materials for both FDM and SLA. You can contact the company for service here.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 


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