Study Shows 3D Printing Emits Ultrafine Particles; What This Actually Means

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3D Printer Ultrafine Particle Emissions

Should You Use Your 3D Printer Indoors? Study Asks, We Explain

A recent study published in the journal Atmospheric Environment shows evidence that desktop 3D printers emit ultrafine particles (UFP) to a degree that should cause concern, if you operate your 3D printer in a telephone booth.

The report focuses on emissions by FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers that use ABS or PLA material, a configuration used by MakerBot and other popular desktop 3D printer companies.

Ultrafine particles are small particles, technically on the nanoscale, that can be inhaled and cause health effects ranging from innocuous to major, including lung disease.

The report claims that observed emissions of UFPs from desktop 3D printers were significant and therefore caution should be used when operating in a unventilated area.

Estimates of emission rates of total UFPs were large, ranging from ∼2.0 × 1010 # min−1 for a 3D printer utilizing a polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock to ∼1.9 × 1011 # min−1 for the same type of 3D printer utilizing a higher temperature acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic feedstock. Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments.

At first glance, this sounds like a big problem for 3D printing, an industry in rapid growth and adoption. But the reality is that the level of emission observed is similar to that of laser printers, candles, and cooking on a stove at home – all activities consumers are not going to give up any time soon.

The same 3D printer utilizing a higher temperature ABS feedstock had an emission rate estimate (1.8–2.0 × 1011 # min−1) similar to that reported during grilling food on gas or electric stoves at low power (1.2–2.9 × 1011 # min−1), but approximately an order of magnitude lower than gas or electric stoves operating at high power (1.2–3.4 × 1012 # min−1). Regardless, the desktop 3D printers measured herein can all be classified as “high emitters” with UFP emission rates greater than 1010 particles per min, according to criteria set forth in He et al. (2007).

In summary, don’t use your 3D printer in a dark corner of your basement without opening the window.

Embedded is the full report.

CC image by pennstatenews


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One Response to Study Shows 3D Printing Emits Ultrafine Particles; What This Actually Means

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