3D printers can make almost everything nowadays: from toys to artificial limbs, houses, cars and tools. Such applicability has opened up conversations among scientists who follow the market about the effects on the inhalation of toxic and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particles emitted by the devices. Parameters must be established in order to continue operating strongly and safely.
Two years ago, the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent security certification company, started working on this. UL has established a consultative council and has started funding research for projects to answer basic questions about the quantities and types of compounds in 3D printer emissions about which levels are safe and how to reduce exposures.
According to Marilyn Black, Vice President of UL, the company is working to create a consistent method of testing and evaluation so that researchers can compare data in different laboratories. “By the end of this year, we will be launching an ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standard to measure particles and VOCs for everyone to use”; she told the Chemical & Engineering News website.
Blue Angel Standard
“As laser printers heat and distribute ink, they emit ultrafine particles comparable to those of 3D printers, but that does not mean they pose the same health risk as 3D models”, says Aleksandr Stefaniak, a Research Industrial Hygienist of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSHI.
Both types of printer use plastic ink, but the laser toner is only heated for a few moments. On the other hand, a 3D printing operation can last for hours or days if the filament is continuously fused. Due to the extended meltdown, 3D printer emissions include hundreds of VOCs and a number of composition particles still unknown.
When UL standards are released later this year, the company will also propose a voluntary threshold for allowed levels of 3D printer emissions. According to the company, manufacturers can replace filaments with better and safer options, and include printers in cabinets that remove ultrafine particles (UFPs) and VOCs with HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters. In tests conducted by Stefaniak’s team, when 3D printers were closed in HEPA-filtered ventilated chambers, particle concentrations in the printing room fell by 98% – a very promising performance.
UL is adopting essentially the same approach used by the German “Blue Angel” ecolabel program which has set a standard for laser printers. The certification company believes that manufacturers will compete to meet the standard, as did the laser printer companies after the Blue Angel program has issued a standard in 2012.
ANSI will continually review the standard as scientists learn more about the health impacts of 3D printers and how they can be managed and modified so that this technology continues its revolutionary path into productive processes.
Content published in March 31, 2018