3D printers

3D printer

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3D printer
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3D printers are becoming more and more common. New spheres of OSH research aim to deliver valid conclusions regarding emissions from 3D printers and therefore their possible impacts upon the health of workers.

For some years, additive manufacturing (AM) has been the subject of considerable hype in the media under the buzzwords of 3D printers or rapid prototyping and manufacturing. Production techniques such as selective laser sintering have however existed for some 20 years. At present they are used primarily for the production of prototypes and for short production runs.

Additive manufacturing methods include any method in which a substance is built up in layers in order to produce a part. Based upon data models, these parts are produced by means of chemical and/or physical processes from liquids, powders, or material in strip or wire form.

Additive manufacturing methods are now to enable rapid prototyping/manufacturing to be scaled to high-volume series production. Increasing numbers of manufacturing companies are offering the service of printing out components directly. Customers need only upload the relevant CAD files to the service company; the latter's programs enable the desired part, made from the appropriate material, to be ordered online at the click of a mouse. Once printed out, the part is shipped.

Additive manufacturing is also increasingly being adopted by other users, however: owing to the dramatic drop in prices, more and more installations are appearing on the market and are being used in educational establishments such as universities and their institutes, in industrial R&D departments, and in small and medium-sized enterprises such as engineering offices and dental laboratories.

To date (2019), only few valid German studies have delivered conclusions regarding possible hazards to the health of workers during the use of additive manufacturing methods. The IFA intends to rectify this deficit by means of a "3D printer" project.

In addition, the unit responsible for the Measurement system for exposure assessment of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions (MGU) has set up a measurement campaign in the area of exposure associated with additive manufacturing methods, including 3D printers. Particular attention will be paid to the materials employed, such as metals, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). Of particular interest are for example powder(bed)-based methods, stereolithography and fused layer modelling (FLM). For this purpose, the inhalative exposure to hazardous substances was measured in production areas and at office-type workplaces. Examples of the substances include:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Aldehydes
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substances
  • Respirable and inhalable dusts

First results show that the inhalative exposure to powdery materials lie below the occupational exposure limit value, providing that dust-reducing measures took place, i.e. capture at the point of generation or encapsulation. Of course by using alloys containing cancerogenic metals more effective measures have to be taken as for alloys without cancerogenic metals.

Measurements with 3D-desktop printers in a test chamber are intended for 2019.

Following completion of the test measurements, Recommendations for Hazard Identification of the Accident Insurers (EGUs) and other publications on the subject are planned.

Further Information

Beisser, R. et al.: Inhalation exposure to metals during additive processes (3D printing) (PDF, 776 kB)
Translated from: Gefahrstoffe - Reinhaltung der Luft 77 (2017) No. 11/12, p. 487-496

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Dr Renate Beisser

Hazardous substances: handling, protective measures

Tel: +49 30 13001-3310
Fax: +49 30 13001-38001