Additive manufacturing, sometimes referred to as 3D printing, has become the subject of an explosion of interest. While this technology was invented in the 1980s, the more recent development of smaller 3D printers for personal and small business use has led to a significant growth in the use of these devices in educational facilities, homes, and businesses.
The additive manufacturing process differs from the commonly-used injection mold method, which is typically executed by applying a molten plastic resin into a cast-metal mold using high pressure. Instead, 3D printing creates objects and parts using a machine that “prints” plastic resin or other materials as guided by a digital design. The machines vary in the application method used, but the key characteristic common to all is that they build an object in layers, with the molten plastic resin or other substance being applied in successive layers.
3D printers and other larger additive manufacturing machines share the known electrical and physical safety concerns with other similar-sized machinery. But what is not yet well known is which types and quantities of chemicals and fine particles are released into the air when these machines operate, and consequently, the effect of those printing by-products on human health. The increased use of 3D printing machines, particularly in homes and schools where children are exposed, makes answering these questions imperative.
To help address this chemical safety concern, UL is conducting research to characterize the chemical and particle emissions associated with various types of 3D printing technologies and print materials. Emissions will also be studied with bioassays to evaluate potential human toxicity, and the complete data will be used to evaluate acute and chronic health risks.
The research is being conducted by UL along with atmospheric chemistry scientists and public health experts from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory School of Public Health. An international technical advisory committee is also reviewing test plans and data and contributing to technical development of test methodologies. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), who is represented on the committee, has a particular interest in the release of asthmagens – substances that can cause or exacerbate asthma, a respiratory disease. This research will lead to the development of accurate measurement test methods and exposure models for evaluating the emissions of various printers and evaluating their risks. It will guide future evaluations of 3D printing technologies from a human health perspective, and also aid in product design and material selection.
Upon completion of the research, UL plans to publish the 3D printer emission study results in peer-reviewed science journals and present the findings at a technology conference. With this research, UL wants to illustrate the importance of an expanded, more comprehensive understanding of safety – one that melds the traditional focus on electrical, flammability and mechanical safety hazards with the chemical and particle hazards that could harm human health.
To talk with UL experts about additive manufacturing, 3D printing and related topics during HANNOVER MESSE 2016 please visit us in Hall 9/Stand H79 at the Industrial Automation booth, or in Hall 6/Stand K01 at the Digital Factory booth.