3D printing has the potential to change manufacturing of many types of products resulting in changes in the environmental, social and economic landscape. Which of these changes will actually occur depends upon many factors, including the cost and energy trajectory of this new technology, the response from competitive technology, and the adoption by industry and others.
Building on an anticipatory life cycle assessment of a few specific parts, this study considers the environmental, social and economic impacts using a new screening level Sustainable Return on Investment (S-ROI) approach. The study considers several risks and opportunities, such as the availability of customized, inexpensive prostheses, encouragement of entrepreneurship in developing countries and compares them with the cost of a 3D printer. While the study is not exhaustive or definitive, it provides insights into the potential magnitude of each risk and opportunity which allows for better management of the technology introduction toward a more sustainable outcome. While there have been comprehensive cost-benefit analyses performed on new technologies, we believe this is the first screening level study using the multicriteria, multistakeholder S-ROI approach with uncertainty. This enables environmental, social and economic impacts to be assessed as a triple bottom line for different stakeholders, providing new information for decision making.