3D printing particles may cause respiratory problems

3D printing particles may cause respiratory problems 1

The market for 3D printed products is rapidly increasing and the manufacturing sector may have to adapt to use these new processes to keep up with demand. Since 3D printing will likely change how consumers buy and make products, companies investing in these machines may want to ensure they are cognizant of the potential health effects of this relatively new manufacturing process. Companies may want to increase the safety of 3D printing by installing fume hoods to remove harmful contaminants.

With consumer demand for 3D printing increasing and companies finding new ways to advance manufacturing with these game-changing devices, the global market for 3D printing is projected to increase more than 20 percent each year through 2017 to reach $5 billion, according to a study by The Freedonia Group. The market research firm predicts much of the growth in the global 3D printing market will center in the U.S., which will generate 42 percent of all sales in 2017.

One of the benefits of 3D printing is local manufacturers being able to send items to nearby customers fast, Forbes reported, which could be a boon with the popularity of online shopping continuing to grow.

"Products are getting to market quicker, arguably as better-designed products with more end-user feedback because they are able to play with a working model of the product," said John Hauer, co-founder and CEO of 3DLT, which sells 3D printing templates. "We really don't believe that 3D printing will replace mass manufacturing, but instead that [they] will coexist."

Health effects of tiny particles from 3D printing
As with other manufacturing processes that require heating plastic, 3D printing may emit harmful chemicals. In the case of 3D printing, machines may generate small particles that can be embedded into the lungs, TechWorld reported. Researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and France's National Institute of Applied Sciences discovered the plastic particles from the printers are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. Their small size makes them likely to be inhaled, to travel into the lungs and even into the brain.

"These small particles can cause inflammation in our respiratory system, or penetrate deep into our lungs and are small enough to enter our bloodstream," Brent Stephens, lead author of the study and assistant professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at IIT, told Techworld. "Once in our bloodstream, they may interact with our cells, or maybe deposited in sensitive areas such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, or heart. They can also access the central nervous system via our brains."

Workers may want to be aware of the risks of handling a plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which can produce 10 times as many ultra-fine particles as another type of common 3D printing material called poly(lactic acid). When people are exposed to ABS, they may experience headaches and respiratory irritation. Researchers recommend 3D printing companies utilize fume hoods when they print with ABS to prevent negative side effects. 

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