Updated: Apr 7, 2021
3D printing has revolutionalised design, prototyping and concept visualisation in many industries such as healthcare, engineering, aerospace, architecture, design, fashion and more. However, while many educational establishments and workplaces are investing in 3D printing technology, most are not aware of the many health risks caused by toxic fumes emitted by 3D printers.
To protect users and adhere to legal obligations, the harmful chemical emissions created by 3D printers, such as styrene and isocyanates, must be effectively controlled by fully enclosing the printer and installing an extraction system.
Risks of 3D Printing in the Workplace
Equipment that consumes thermoplastic toner powder emits ultra-fine particles (UFP) of <100 nm diameter during operation as the printer filament is pushed through the nozzle. These ultra-fine particles can cause lung and cardiovascular disease when inhaled.
Despite the risk to health caused by these particles, often the appropriate ventilation is not used, allowing ultra-fine particles to fill the work area. In addition, smaller desktop 3D printers most often are located and operated in the same area where students and employees work.
Students or employees could be breathing these ultra-fine particles for long periods of time whilst the 3D printer is in operation as the most basic of 3D printers, which are used in workplaces and schools, can take many hours to print simple designs.
Control of 3D Printing Emissions
It is important to ensure that appropriate 3D printing emission control measures are put in place to protect student and employee health, as well as meeting HSE requirements.
3D printer emissions can be controlled in several ways:
Efficient Extraction of Emissions The most effective way to reduce the risks caused by 3D printing is to completely remove the emissions through the use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system. Recent HSE testing has concluded that situating a 3D printer within an enclosed hood with a proper LEV system reduced particle emission by up to 97% when exhausting air from the enclosing hood and by 99% when in recirculating air mode. A properly designed and installed LEV system can safely and effectively extract the fumes and particle emissions produced by the 3D printer.
Choosing the Correct Filament Choosing the correct filament for your purpose can reduce the fumes and emissions generated while in operation. Important considerations are; the toxicity of fumes generated by the specific types of filament, using the correct type of filament for your printer, and ensuring the filament is purchased from a reputable source.
Operating within Recommended Temperatures HSE tests have observed that the particle emission rate increases and particle size decreases as the printer nozzle temperature rises. Operating the 3D printer within the recommended temperature range and allowing cooling time between operations will serve to reduce the fumes and emissions to lower levels.
What Can RCS Do For You
RCS's engineers will endeavour to provide you with the most effective and cost-efficient solution for 3D printing fume and particle emission extraction, fully COSSH compliant, following current HSE guidelines and your own individual requirements.