3D printing can transform how we live in cities

Greater use of 3D printing in cities has the potential to drive innovation and sustainability by putting manufacturing back in the hands of communities, reducing transport and waste and increasing local jobs.

The ‘fabrication city’ model, which emerged in around 2011, gives local makers access to additive manufacturing or 3D printing and other production tools to create and market products from used or new materials.

In their upcoming book Innovation Solutions for Creating Sustainable Cities, Sylvia Albert, a professor at the University of Winnipeg, and Tomas Diez, director of Fab Lab Barcelona, argue that fabrication cities have the potential to “radically redefine urbanism by changing how we produce, consume and live in cities so they can digest locally the waste they produce”.

For instance, cities and local entrepreneurs could use 3D printing to mass customize and produce just-in-time delivery, which will reduce transportation and waste and, in turn, minimize emissions. This local model also promises to reduce the overall cost for consumers while creating more jobs.

Alongside using locally sourced materials, cities equipped with flexible 3D printing factories could even embrace the circular economy concept by using waste materials or disassembled components to digitally manufacture products for their citizens – anything from prosthetic limbs, park benches or even household appliances such as refrigerators.

According to the two authors, fabrication cities create a “unique ecosystem” that attracts innovative thinkers and allows cities to diversity, making them “a powerful game changer in the way that we make and dispose of everything we consume”.

Image credit: Bethany Weeks via Flickr

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