The future of manufacturing may be harmful to your health

Three-dimensional printing—the process of using CAD/CAM models and extruding layer upon layer of “slices” to build a new object from plastic or metal filament, has taken the world by storm. Kids use 3D printers to create toys and action figures. Engineering college students use it to make their CAD renderings come to life.

There’s even a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where astronauts live and work. The thought process here: ISS astronauts can manufacturer spare parts for needed equipment, saving space. So, if a knob broke or a valve became faulty, the crew would simply find the corresponding 3D model from a database of parts on a laptop and extrude a new version via keyboard commands to the 3D printer—it’s as easy as pressing “print” in a dialog box.

3D printing shines in manufacturing

But perhaps the greatest potential for 3D modeling and printing lies in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturers are using the devices to create rapid prototypes, cutting down on time and expenses of creating proof of concept components or parts. By using 3D printers, these manufacturers avoid the time-consuming process of creating molds or dies and eliminating diecasting altogether.

Because of the sheer economics of 3D printing, manufacturers can quickly come to market with new products; the testing and prototyping cycle can be reduced to mere days instead of months or years.

And, like the ISS, if a manufacturer faces an assembly line breakdown, he or she can simply take the line down for a few minutes, print out a new part to replace the broken component, and have operations back and humming within minutes—gone are the days waiting for parts to be shipped.

But 3D printing can have negative impacts in a workspace

There is a drawback, however. A significant one, involving the health of workers. Oftentimes, 3D printing takes place in small rooms—a person’s office or an engineering area. And it’s that enclosed tight space that leads to the problem. A recent study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology and UL Chemical Safety found that the process of 3D printing significantly impacts indoor air quality.

The researchers collected samples of the particles emitted from the printers during the extrusion process and found that the materials were highly toxic; the melting of plastic filaments to build the various layers needed to create the 3D printed object release volatile compounds into the air. Also, the higher the temperature needed to melt the plastic meant larger quantities of the toxic compounds were emitted into the air. “These studies show that particle and chemical emissions from 3D printers can result in unintentional pollutant exposure hazards, and we are pleased to share this research so that steps can be taken to reduce health risks,” says Marilyn Black, senior technical advisor for Underwriters Laboratories.

How can you celebrate 3D printing and solve the downfalls?

One of the best steps available to reduce health risks? Cleaning and scrubbing indoor air via air purification. The complete line of AeraMax Professional commercial-grade air purifiers effectively and efficiently removes up to 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants, like volatile compounds, as well as germs, viruses, bacteria, allergens, dust and odors. By using AeraMax Professional in the 3D printing environment, manufacturers can remove the particles from the air, helping to provide a cleaner environment for workers.