A new review into the particulate and gases emitted through 3D print processes has been published by BOFA, providing expert guidance on the potential risks presented to employee health and product quality.

BOFA, a global leader in filtration and atmosphere management for additive manufacturing processes, created the industry paper to amalgamate current available research into the prevalence of potentially harmful airborne contaminants.

“The report highlights the risks associated with a range of 3D print processes, including VAT polymerisation (VP) and fused filament fabrication (FFF), which together account for approximately 50% of the total components produced in the AM industry,” says Ross Stoneham, Product Manager – 3DP & Growth Markets at BOFA International.

“We decided to undertake the review of empirical evidence because in talking to customers in this marketplace, we were struck by the lack of detailed information available to operators covering 3D print emissions.

We hope this industry paper will be welcomed by the sector as a positive step forward not only in helping to create the safest possible working environment, but also in defining the investment value of extraction technology to maintain high value equipment. Without such intervention, contamination can lead to product quality issues and lost productivity.”

Key findings of the paper include:

The temperature of 3D printer nozzles dramatically influences the volume of particles generated by FFF processes.
An increase in 3D printer nozzle temperature decreases the average particle size generated by FFF processes; studies covering 3D printer emissions have typically found particles measuring between 10 and 100 nanometers in sizewhich means they can penetrate more easily into the human body, potentially impacting negatively on health.
Any insoluble or low-solubility nanoparticles emitted can pass through human defence mechanisms and locate in the bloodstream, with potential distribution to organs in the body.
Gases emitted by FFF printers include volatile organic compounds (VOCs),such as styrene, acrylonitrile, butadiene and lactide. Some VOCs have strong odours, which is the reason why users of AM machines experience discomfort whilst printing certain materials. Exposure to these emissions has the potential to negatively impact on human health, with symptoms ranging from headaches, eye irritation and skin problems to occupational asthma.

In 3D print processes, uncontrolled particulate can negatively impact printer efficiency and increase the risk of product contamination, with any prolonged release of sticky plastic droplets leading to a build-up of material on the machine’s moving parts, potentially causing reliability issues.

“The message here is that whatever the process, health and safety managers must evaluate the most effective means of capturing any potentially harmful emissions and filtering them appropriately,” says Ross Stoneham.

Ross Stoneham

Businesses owe a legally enforceable duty of care to ensure operator safety, but there are also strong commercial reasons to invest in effective filtration and atmosphere managementfrom a productivity perspective.”  

BOFA works closely with industry to ensure the most effective filtration performance for any process and the precise design of each system will require in-depth analysis of many different variables to ensure correct mitigation of risk.

Once armed with this information, data-driven airflow analysis and control parameters can help define the optimal filtration technology, which, depending on the process, will involve a combination of pre-filtration, a main High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and a layer of adsorbents to remove vapours and gases.

The company is now at the forefront of filtration system design for 3D printing, with a range of dedicated technologies that are just as portable, if not more so, as the 3D printer, that filter and capture particulate and fume – including nanoparticles – and return clean air into the environment.

The current widespread adoption of faster and higher-temperature 3D print systems for round-the-clock production lines, creates the conditions for greater potential health risks for operatives if emissions are not controlled.

The company has recently redesigned its 3D PrintPRO 4 technology to offer wider filtration airflow ranges and expanded filtration capacity, optimised for the emissions of industrial 3D printing processes, and has also just launched a 3D PrintPRO HT unit for high temperature 3D print filtration.

BOFA’s industry paper on 3D print emissions can be downloaded by going to https://bofainternational.com/en/3d-printing-emissions/