Researchers find hidden health risk in common 3D-printing process

12 Nov 20184.58k Views

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Researchers have seen first-hand how prolonged exposure to the 3D-printing process could seriously impact our health through nanoparticles.

3D printing has gone beyond a hobby for makers and creatives, and is now a regular tool used by major industry to produce a whole range of objects, including the latest fighter aircraft.

However, while we tend to marvel at the intricate shapes these machines can create, we might give little thought to potential dangers found in the production process. Now, two papers published to Aerosol Science and Technology here and here have highlighted one particular oversight.

The researchers from Georgia Tech found that among many desktop 3D printers across the world, the amount of ultra-fine particles (UFPs) emitted during the printing process may pose a health concern. This is due to them being the size of nanoparticles, which may be inhaled and penetrate deep into the human pulmonary system.

The research spanned two years and also revealed that more than 200 different volatile organic compounds, many of which are known or suspected irritants and carcinogens, are also released while 3D printers are in operation.

Greater public information needed

The researchers have now said that a complete risk assessment of 3D printers is urgent. Currently, there is little information in the marketplace that informs a potential buyer on what quantity of nanoparticles a 3D printer would emit.

Many factors –  including nozzle temperature, filament type, filament and printer brand, and filament colour – affect emissions. Extrusion temperature, filament material and filament brand were found to have the greatest impact on emission levels.

“Studies have shown that fused filament fabrication 3D printers designed for general public use emit high levels of ultra-fine and fine particles,” said Dr Rodney Weber, Georgia Tech’s primary investigator of the research. “Preliminary tests with in vivo, in vitro and acellular methods for particles generated by a limited number of filaments showed adverse responses.”

Some initial suggestions for reducing the risk of nanoparticle inhalation proposed by the team include using a 3D printer in a well-ventilated room and setting the nozzle temperature at the lower end of the suggested temperature.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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