BOFA publishes research paper on the impact of 3D printing emissions

BOFA International, a developer of fume and particle extraction technology, has published a research paper examining the impact of particles and gases emitted by 3D printing processes.

The study examines the presence of harmful air contaminants produced by 3D printing processes such as fused filament fabrication (FFF) and tank curing, and how printer manufacturers can protect employee health and quality. products by integrating efficient filtration systems.

“The report highlights the importance of installing effective filtration solutions that can help capture and remove any potentially harmful emissions,” said Ross Stoneham, Product Manager – 3DP & Growth Markets at BOFA. “This will not only help protect operators from potentially harmful air contaminants, but will also ensure that the resulting product and machinery remain free from contamination. “

Ross Stoneham, Product Manager – 3DP and Growth Markets at BOFA. Photo via BOFA.

Addressing the Hidden Dangers of AF

Since 3D printing often involves fusing and sintering, a particular health and safety concern is the release of airborne contaminants, which can come in all shapes, sizes, and odors.

A leader in portable fume extraction technology, BOFA has developed a portfolio of products specifically for the additive manufacturing industry that can help reduce the risks associated with air emissions produced by 3D printers.

In July, BOFA signed a distribution partnership with a supplier of 3D printers based in France Atom3D to offer its 3D PrintPRO air filtration products. The devices can be integrated into third-party 3D printers to capture harmful vapors and particles emitted during the printing process.

Such airborne contaminants include ultrafine particles (UFP) which are often on the order of the size of nanoparticles, while volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have distinctly unpleasant odors.

The detrimental effects of both types of emissions have been well documented before, with organizations such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishing health and safety posters specifically for 3D printing.

Elsewhere, researchers from Seoul National University have previously studied the effect of nozzle temperature on emission rates of hazardous particles during FFF 3D printing, and scientists from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also studied VOC emissions during FFF 3D printing, this time looking at composites such as carbon fiber reinforced ABS.

Particle release during FFF.  Image via BOFA.
Particle release during FFF. Image via BOFA.

BOFA 3D Printing Emissions Report

BOFA’s research thesis focuses on two 3D printing processes in particular: FFF and vat polymerization techniques such as digital light processing by stereolithography (DLP). The study aims to better educate the 3D printing market on the impact of emissions from 3D printers so that they can be used in a more informed and safe manner.

Both FFF and vat curing processes are popular with novice users, but their design often requires frequent manual loading, handling, and process optimization which all occur near the print chamber. This means that there is a greater potential for exposure to air emissions for the operator.

Among other findings, the report describes how the nozzle temperature of 3D printers significantly influences the volume of particles generated by FFF processes. An increase in the temperature of the nozzles decreases the average size of the particles generated during printing, which means that they can more easily penetrate the human body and subsequently have a negative impact on the health of an individual.

The research paper also found that the gases emitted by FFF printers also contain VOCs, which can potentially cause headaches, eye, skin irritation, and even occupational asthma in users.

Various filaments have also been identified as giving off different levels of emissions. For example, ABS filaments release styrene, acrylonitrile and butadiene, while PLA filaments release lactide and organic acids. However, since the odor generated by printing with PLA is much lower than with ABS, many believe that the risk is much lower or even nonexistent, but the data shows that VOCs are generated for both. materials whether or not a person is able to sense with their senses or not. This is why ventilating a room by opening a window is standard practice for most people.

Moving on to tank polymerization, the photoreaction caused by heating the liquid material in its natural state has also been proven to emit airborne materials. As the printing process converts the resin into a solid material, not everything ends up in the finished part and nanoparticles are then generated. BOFA’s report also focuses on emissions generated during post-processing by acts such as sanding, gluing and solvent-based finishing.

Vessel polymerization emissions.  Photo via BOFA.
Vessel polymerization emissions. Photo via BOFA.

How harmful are emissions from 3D printing?

It is important to understand the health risks associated with the air you breathe when using your 3D printer. However, while it is useful to divide these 3D printing emissions into VOCs and particles, the cumulative effect of particles and gases should also be taken into account.

According to BOFA, users have the right to understand emissions from their 3D printers, and at the same time, employers should be helped to comply with their legislative responsibility to protect their employees.

The report says particle size is particularly important for this understanding, because the size of the particles emitted during printing affects where they land in a person’s respiratory system. The smaller a particle, the more it can enter the respiratory system and the more harm it can cause. BOFA states that the interaction of gases with the respiratory system should also be considered, as chemicals can be absorbed through both a user’s lungs and skin.

How 3D PrintPRO 3 integrates with 3D printers.  Image via BOFA International
How 3D PrintPRO 3 integrates with 3D printers. Image via BOFA International.

Mitigate the impact of emissions

In addition to educating readers about the dangers of 3D printing emissions, BOFA’s report also outlines a number of mitigation strategies to protect users.

One of the most effective protection strategies is the use of engineering controls such as fixed ventilation systems and direct exhaust technologies. However, although both techniques are reasonably effective in separating the user from the hazard, they are not always able to completely contain the emissions produced during the process, and these can be released at the end of a construction when the operator retrieves the printed part.

Administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are also ways to protect against the risk of emissions, but they simply limit an individual’s exposure rather than controlling the hazard itself. In the report, BOFA believes that the highest level of protection offered against the risk of 3D printing emissions is a specialized Direct Extraction System (LEV).

Going forward, BOFA predicts a direct correlation between the increasing productivity of 3D printers and the amount of material printed, and in turn the amount of emissions produced. The research paper suggests that greater adoption and maturation of additive manufacturing in the future is likely to draw more attention to the safety of the technology. With this, manufacturers of machinery and materials have a responsibility to ensure that they perform adequate testing to ensure that their products are safe.

BOFA will present the full results of the research paper on its booth at Formnext next week, and those interested in learning more can download the paper here.

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Featured Image Shows how the 3D PrintPRO 3 integrates with 3D printers. Image via BOFA International.



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