Tuesday, September 10, 2013

3D Printers and Indoor Air Quality

3D Desktop Printer
3D Desktop Printer
MakerBot Replicator2
Ideal for rapid prototyping and small scale manufacturing, the 3D printing technology is expanding rapidly fueled by the development of low-cost desktop 3D printers.

3D printing (or Additive manufacturing) is an additive process known as molten polymer deposition (MPD) where very thin layers of thermoplastic are melted successively deposited on a baseplate by a computer controlled heated nozzle. As the thermoplastic hardens, the baseplate moves to the next layer, and the process continues until the desired 3D object is created.

There are several types of thermoplastics suitable for this process (polyvinyl alcohol - PVA, polycarbonate - PC, high-density polyethylene - HDPE) but most desktop 3D printers utilize either acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polylactic acid (PLA).

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a tough thermoplastic with a very good impact resistance and shock absorbance. In the 3D printing process the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) prints at approximately 220 °C nozzle temperature and 80 °C baseplate temperature.

Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic derived from organic renewable sources such as corn starch and it prints at nozzle temperatures of about 180 °C and room temperature for the baseplate.

Recent studies on thermal processing of thermoplastics indicate that both gases and particles are emitted during the manufacturing processes. The main byproducts of the ABS thermal decomposition include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and a variety of volatile organics (VOC), all being well-known health hazards.

Another potential concern is the ultrafine particles (UFP), particles less than 100nm generated during the 3D printing process.

The authors of the “Ultrafine particle emissions from desktop 3D printers” study conducted a series of measurements on UFP concentrations resulting from the operation of several desktop 3D printers operating in a small office. The results indicated both ABS and PLA thermoplastics emit relatively high concentrations of ultrafine particles (UFP) and proper filtration is recommended.

UFPs are the main constituent of airborne particulate matter and due to their ability to penetrate deep within the lung and deposit in head’s airways, are a major health concern.

Quatro Air SPL-400
Quatro Air SPL-400
Multipurpose Source Capture Air Purifier
Experimental studies have shown that ultrafine particles are capable to pass through skin, enter the bloodstream from the lungs and cross cellular membranes. It was also indicated that the toxicity could increase as the particle size decreases due to increased surface area.

Even if components of certain UFPs are not very toxic, exposure to high concentrations may cause oxidative stress, inflammatory mediator release, and could induce lung disease and other systemic effects.

With a fast growing user base and sold without proper filtration, the 3D printers could expose the operators to serious health hazards.
Backed by 20 years of experience in air purification systems, Quatro Air Technologies (1.877.978.2876) offers a wide range of high efficiency source capture fume extractors designed remove airborne contaminants and create a healthy work environment.

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