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3D printing produces tiny particles
Broader size range of measured particles revealed smaller mean particle sizes in 3D printing emissions, compared to earlier findings.
New technologies bring new possibilities but also new potential hazards with them. Today consumers have easy access to 3D printing technology, and it is exciting to make use of that technology in the most creative ways. But amidst that excitement it is easy to forget the things you don’t see – the nanoparticles emitted from the printing process that can invade your body and potentially affect your health.
Typical low-end 3D printers have no built-in containment or air cleaning system. Gases and particles emitted during the printing spread to the breathing space of people in the room. Whether in a home, a library, or in a school class room, people can get exposed to 3D printing emissions.
Mendes et al. studied 3D printing emissions of a low-end printer using the most common materials, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene; an oil-based material) and PLA (polylactic acid; a biodegradable material). This was the first study with such a broad size range of particles measured—from 1 nm to 31 μm—and so provided new and important information of the potentially hazardous aerosol emissions from 3D printing.
Their measurements revealed the 3D printing emissions to have a very different mean particle size compared to previous studies that didn’t measure sub-10 nm particles. In regular printing process the mean particle size in this study ranged from 7.8 to 10.5 nm. The researchers noticed malfunctions, like excess material sticking to the printing nozzle, to increase the particle size. Increased temperatures in turn increased the number of emitted particles.
In particular, the measurements showed significant emissions of nanocluster aerosol with particle diameter below 3 nm throughout the event in all the print cycles. The sub-3 nm particles were clearly shown to be originating from the 3D printing process.
Based on their findings, the researchers called for precautionary measures to protect people from exposure to high nanoparticle concentrations when using 3D printers; enclosures, local exhaust ventilation and air filtering systems. Utilisation of new technologies should be encouraged, but with thought to health aspects as well, to have the best outcomes.
To learn more about their findings, read the paper by Mendes et al.:
Characterization of Emissions from a Desktop 3D Printer
Mendes, L., Kangas, A., Kukko, K., Mølgaard, B., Säämänen, A., Kanerva, T., Ituarte, I. F., Huhtiniemi, M., Stockmann-Juvala, H. Partanen, J., Hämeri, K., Eleftheriadis, K., Viitanen, A.-K. J. Ind. Ecol.,vol. 21, issue S1, 2017. DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12569
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