3D printing: Are there particles? How about fumes?

Images source: thingiverse.com

Excited about 3D printing?

Pretty sure you’ll have one at home or in your office?

You and everybody else: between 35,000 to 40,000 desktop 3D printers were sold in 2012 estimates one manufacturer, who expects a doubling of those numbers this year.

As you consider your acquisition, please include a well thought out ventilation plan for your printer and its surrounding space.

By ventilation, we don’t mean a fan that blows fumes around a room. We mean ventilation that removes the fumes from the room so you don’t breathe them.

UFP and 3D printers

[See the green sidebar for definitions of acronyms.]

Most 3D printers use feedstock filaments made of polymers, typically PLA and ABS.

The filaments are melted by the printer’s heating element and laid down in very, very thin layers to produce 3D objects.

Each type of filament is manufactured from different ingredients and each has a different melting point.

In one study, Ultrafine particles emissions from desktop 3D printers [Atmospheric Environment 79 (2013) 334-339; may be behind a pay wall] the authors measured the number and size of particles emitted by 3D printers using both types of filaments.



What did the authors find?

In their tests, the authors found that 3D printers emit a lot of UFP, no matter which filament type was used.

But ABS filament produced almost twice as much UFP than did PLA.

Understanding particle size is important

Generally, particle size is measured in relationship to a meter.

A micrometer, also referred to as a micron, is 1/1,000,000 of a meter and can be expressed as mm and µm.

Smaller than particles in the micron scale, UFP are measured using the nano scale or nanometers.

A single nanometer is 1/1,000,000,000 of a meter. UFP in the nano scale are invisible without special instruments.

Nano, schano: what’s the concern about UFP?

When inhaled, invisible UFP can be deposited in the lungs and in the head’s airways.

One researcher found that UFP can travel the olfactory nerve and end up located in the brain.

Other studies indicate that UFP can accumulate in bone marrow, the lymph system, spleen, heart and the central nervous system – and UFP are associated with cardio-respiratory death, strokes, and asthma.

Pointing out the obvious: UFP is not good for your body.

So what’s the concern about ABS?

ABS is made of 3 chemicals: acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene.

While 3D printing may be the new thing, research into the health effects of these chemicals is not.

All are discussed on The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website in the Documentation for Immediately Dangerous To Life or Health Concentrations section.

As you can see in the graphic, these chemicals are considered dangerous if you are exposed to amounts greater than the recommended limits.

Note that the acceptable limits are expressed in parts per million, as in 10 parts of acrylonitrile per 1 million parts of air for a period no longer than 15 minutes.

ALSO NOTE: That is a very small amount of chemical in a much larger amount of air.

What about PLA?

Currently, there is limited health and safety information about polylactic acid.

That doesn’t mean you should be nonchalant about inhaling PLA filament fumes.

From asbestos to chemotherapy fumes, our understanding of health and safety in the presence of manufactured substances is littered with products once thought safe but, over time, were proved dangerous.

Yes, we design and manufacture ventilation solutions

Our fume extractors can be equipped with filtration that captures both airborne particles and chemical fumes.

The units are portable and can be wheeled to exactly where they are needed.

Their flexible capture arms can be precisely positioned to remove air contaminants where they are created, at the source.

So if you’ve hauled your 3D printer to a hack lab or have it set up in your home office, our fume extractor can be right there with you.


UPDATED March 2014. See how the benevolent overlord of a maker space for kids created a fume extractor port for a 3D printer: http://bit.ly/NJVinC  


UPDATED May 2014. Visit our 3D Printing Fume Extraction page on our website. 


Give us a shout

If you are involved in processes that heat plastics and want to explore your air ventilation options, please give us a call at 1.800.799.4609, email us at sales@sentryair.com, or fill out this online form to have a Sentry Air Systems Applications Specialist contact you to discuss your process.




Is desktop 3D printing safe? Will it harm your health? Ultrafine particle emissions and vapors

Ultrafine particle emissions from desktop 3D printers, by Brent Stephens, Parham Azimi, Zeineb El Orcha, Tiffanie Ramos Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, USA, National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA de Lyon), Lyon, Fran

Nanotoxicology: An Emerging Discipline Evolving from Studies of Ultrafine Particles, Environ Health Perspect. 2005 July; 113(7): 823–839, by Günter Oberdörster, Eva Oberdörster, and Jan Oberdörster

Why basic 3D printers are crazy cheap now

The Effect of Ventilation, Age, and Asthmatic Condition on Ultrafine Particle Deposition in Children

Ultrafine Particle Research

Polylactic acid

Are you welding plastic or are you burning plastic?

Take 2: Are you burning plastic or are you welding plastic?