Are 3D Printing Fumes Dangerous?

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3D printing is a process of generating three-dimensional concrete components from a digital file. The production of a 3D printed component is accomplished through additive processes. Here, experts recline continuous material layers to generate the component. During the printing process, 3D printers generate fumes and contaminants in your home. Are 3D printing fumes dangerous?

Are 3d printing fumes dangerous?

Are PLA fumes harmful?

Polylactic or plastic acid (PLA) is a vegetable oriented plastic material which often utilizes cornstarch as a basic material. PLA is the fundamental raw material utilized in three-dimensional printing. This material is an entirely biodegradable thermoplastic polymer which comprises of replaceable raw materials. PLA can produce harmful fumes referred to as Volatile Organic Carbon (VOCs) However, it’s worth mentioning that all VOCs are not harmful.

According to studies conducted by a 3D printer manufacturer based in Italy together with a concerned organization to establish the safety of 3D printing evaluated the quantities of harmful volatile organic carbon and the possibly toxic nanoparticles generated during filament injection in a bid to analyze the probable health risks involved.

The study follows a previous one which was conducted in the early 1990s, and which suggested that during the processing and fusion of plastic materials, various harmful components are produced as gases such as phenol, ammonia,  cyanidric, and benzene. The current study sought to establish how toxic PLA was compared to ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Findings showed that the latter is more harmful than the former. Still, PLA produced toxic emissions, especially when ejected at more than 200-degree temperatures.

Do 3D Printers Emit Carbon Monoxide?

There has been increasing concern among 3D users with many pressuring 3D printer manufacturers to explain whether their products generate carbon monoxide. This came up after word spread that a couple and their two in San Francisco died from carbon monoxide poisoning alleged to have emanated from their 3D printers. However, experts in the industry have called for calm among users saying that plastic filaments found in 3D printers are incapable of producing carbon monoxide.

Does 3D printing smell?

Usually, PLA is odorless and if it does, many 3D Printer users say that it produces an unpleasant odor. Remember, the filament you choose determines the smell that your 3D printer produces. There are numerous filaments available in the market today all of which produce varying smell as seen below.

  • ZCorp/Projet. This powder oriented 3D line printer utilizes inkjet technology to continually solidify mystery powder layers to form solid components. It produces a sharp, vinegar-like, and tangy odor.
  • ABS plastic. This is a plastic and robust vapor that can linger around your mouth and nose for quite some time giving you all the reasons to conclude that it’s quite toxic.
  • PLA Plastic. PLA is an organic substance made from corn starch. It produces honey like sweet smell during printing. Resisting such a delicious aroma becomes a difficult task,
  • Nothing. Some of the available 3D printers come with filters to eradicate small components from the developed chamber prior to draining it to the environment. It may not be as interesting as PLA but it assures you that you aren’t inhaling toxic fumes.

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Importance of 3D printing ventilation

In 2014, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of technology evaluated the quality of air surrounding an operational three-dimensional printer. They established that these gadgets produced some substances such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)  Styrene, and ultrafine particles (UPs)

3D printing fumes can be toxic and inhaling them can have a negative impact on your health. It’s therefore important to evaluate your aeration needs. There are various ventilation solutions you can consider as seen below.

One of the most affordable and easiest solutions you can consider is utilizing a good quality PLA filament always. PLA is specially designed to make it more eco-friendly compared to the other filament types in the market. While this can restrict your creativity, it’s a considerable option especially for novice individuals in the industry. Still, you need to ensure that your working area is well aerated. Where possible, avoid working in an enclosed area for prolonged periods of time. 

As the 3D printing technology becomes more popular and cheaper, 3D printers will soon find their way into residential workshops, and home schools. This will enable more people to participate in three-dimensional printing both for business purposes and as a hobby.

Even then, the fumes which 3D printers generate can jeopardize the quality of air inside your home. Fortunately, there are numerous air purifiers in the market today which are highly effective in regard to countering the effect of 3D printers. Home owners will need to take stringent measures to ensure that their homes are well ventilated.

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Install an Air Purifier

Air purifiers are used in various regions across the world to enhance the quality of air. Purchase a good quality air purifier for your home office. There are numerous air purifiers in the market today which can meet your needs and fit your budget as well. Should you opt to purchase an air purifier, ensure your preferred choice features has:

  • A charcoal purifier
  • A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
  • Coms in the appropriate size for the size of your room.

 Air Extractors

Air extractors can help you enhance ventilation, especially in an enclosed area. These gadgets siphon heated air and exchange it with cool air derived from outside the room. It executes this through the use of suction pipes and a fan. There are two types of air extractors you can choose for your room. They are:

  • Reversible airflow extractors with no thermostats
  • Twin reversible airflow extractors complete with thermostats

Just like the air purifier, air extractors are affordable and you can choose one that meets your needs and budget appropriately.

Construct a 3D Printer Enclosure

Are you a DIY fanatic? Why not construct an enclosed area just for your three-dimensional printer? You’ll need to develop an airtight enclosure complete with carbon filters, a dry hose extending out of the house, and a fan. The carbon filter is used to trap VOCs, styrene, and other components, and the hose acts as an air inlet/outlet.

Are Air Purifiers Ideal for Eliminating 3D Printer particulates and Fumes?

3D printers use various strategies to generate three-dimensional forms. However, many of the commercially available 3D printers for small organizations and individuals utilize the molten polymer deposition(MPD) strategy. The process is also referred to as fused deposition(FDM) modeling. MDP 3D printers melt plastics at temperatures as high as 320 degrees and install it in fine layers which are developed to produced the required component.

Heating plastics at high temperatures results in degradation of components which are then released in the air as microfine fumes and contaminants. The air purifier you choose should be able to cut down such contaminants from the air. There are various types of 3D printer pollutants which include: plastics and ultrafine particles and  plastic fumes.

Which is the Ultimate Air Purifier for 3D Printer Pollution?

All air purification technologies come with weaknesses and strengths. Still, not all air purifiers can eliminate VOCs and other pollutants effectively. Here are air purifiers you may want to consider for use in your 3D printing area.

HEPA

HEPA filters are specially designed to eradicate up to 99.97 of small particles measuring up to 0.3 microns sizewise. 3D UFPs are usually 0.1 microns size wise which means that HEPA filters may not be ideal for your 3D printing area.

However, the tiny particles often cling on each other hence augmenting their size, studies suggest that keeping the 3D printer in a HEPA filtered area can cut down the concentration of UFPs in the area by up to 98%.

This means that HEPA filters are better than nothing at all. They will at least help minimize the magnitude of UFPs in the area. It’s worth noting though that HEPA filters don’t eliminate burning plastic smells and VOCs.

Carbon Filters

Carbon filters utilize activated charcoal to eradicate VOCs from the air. The carbon comprises of many spaces through which VOC molecules can be trapped. The process is known as adsorption and can remove VOCs and odors effectively from the air. Carbon air purifiers, however, can slowly lose their efficiency as VOC molecules accumulate in the carbon. In the end, the filter will stop functioning as well as begin circulating the same harmful components back in the air.

Carbon filters should, therefore, be replaced regularly. Still, carbon filters are can’t filter specific compounds such as carbon monoxide. Since 3D printers discharge VOCs similar to melting plastic, household carbon filters may not be ideal at eradicating them. Still, carbon filters aren’t designed to trap any particulate contaminants such as UFPs.

Ozone generators

Ozone generators are limited when it comes to eradicating pollutants. These gadgets also generate ozone which irritates the lungs and jeopardizes your health. Dangerous byproducts are also generated during the ozone generation process hence increasing the airborne contaminants already present in the air resulting from hot plastic in the printer. Further, ozone generators don’t eradicate particles which means that using them in your 3D printing area will not help in eliminating toxic UFPs. as a result, EPA doesn’t approve the use of ozone generators within enclosed areas.

Ionizers

Ionizers administer an electric charge to particles that penetrate through it, hence clumping them together and releasing them to the air. However, this process is likely to generate ozone and this means they have major drawbacks just as the ozone generators. Ionizers are incapable of eliminating VOCs and utilizing them in your 3D printing area may not be beneficial. Some air purifiers are specially designed with an exclusive ionizing section which complements the fundamental technology in the gadget.

PCO

The manufacturers of PCO air purifiers claim that the gadgets can eradicate VOCs from the air through a photochemical reaction. Still, the byproducts that emanate from these reactions can be harmful and uncertain. Further, PCO air purifiers produce ozone and may not be effective in eliminating specific contaminants.

PECO air purifier

The PECO air purifier is ideal for use in your 3D printing area seeing that they eradicate both VOCs and particles from the air. This air purifier destroys 3D fumes completely ensuring that they aren’t released back in the air, unlike in carbon filters where VOCs are trapped along the surface temporarily and can be released back in the air when the carbon filter is worn out.

The PECO air purification technology can damage carbon-based 3D printer particulates. Currently, the PECO is the only technology that’s capable of eradicating organic particles completely.

HEPA filtration and Hybrid of carbon

If you can’t afford an air purifier, you can opt for a hybrid unit complete with a HEPA filter and an appropriate amount of carbon. This gadget can help you eliminate both 3D VOCs and particles. This gadget, however, may not effectively destroy organic particles but the HEPA filter will play a huge role in containing the situation. Remember the carbon layer should come with a specific amount of weight to make it firm enough to enhance the quality of air in your 3D printing area.

Alternative ways to Enhance the Quality of AIr in You 3D Printing Area

If you are utilizing a 3D printer, ensure your room is well aerated. Seeing that a 3D printer can operate for a prolonged period, you may consider having a large open window. Having an appropriate vent fan draining to the outside moves VOCs and contaminants out of the house helping you maintain good quality air in your home.

As technology and knowledge advances, the potential risks of using 3D printers are also increasing. New base materials, as well as plastics that generate UFPs and VOCs in small quantities, are being introduced in the market. Selecting a low emitting base material can help you maintain high air quality in your home.

Finally

Using a 3D printer in the same space as a HEPA filter can help you improve the quality of air while minimizing the risks of prolonged exposure to airborne contaminants. Seeing that few 3D printers come with enclosures, you can include a HEPA enclosure in your working area in a bid to control the number of contaminants transmitted in the air.