Characterization of Particle Emissions from Desktop 3D Printers: A Look at the Effect of Part Design and Build Pathing

Giovanny A Aguilera, Purdue University


3D Printing has been heralded as a revolutionary technology that can change manufacturing and design in the foreseeable future. One of the most popular forms of 3D printing is fused deposition modeling (FDM) where plastic filament is heated to a temperature where it is softened enough to be extruded to build a part, layer by layer. This technique is found in most commercial desktop 3D printers today. Despite the great potential that 3D printing possesses, research studies have shown that ultrafine particles are being generated during the printing process on the order of 1.0 - 1.5 x 105 #/cm3. These ultrafine particles pose a health risk to owners and operators of 3D printers because their small size, less than 100 nm, allows them to penetrate deep within the lungs’ airways. Adding to the potential risk, it is not yet fully understood what the chemical composition of these particles is or how exactly they are being formed during printing. The research covered in this study took a closer look at the FDM 3D printing process and tried to shed some light on what may be generating these particles. The heating of the plastic filament during printing was identified as the possible cause for the creation of these ultrafine particles and thus examined in-depth. A strong correlation between the emission of particles and different actions being performed by the printer could be shown by conducting real-time high resolution particle concentration measurements of the 3D printing process and simultaneously tracking the instructed build path of the nozzle. Results indicated that the plastic filament may be overheating within the nozzle during the heating and printing processes. This overheating causes the filament structure to soften and weakens the chemical bonds of the plastic, which may allow additives to escape and cause the formation of these ultrafine particles. Since high temperatures and the softening of the plastic filament are required for FDM 3D printing, it seem like particle emissions are an inherent issue. Therefore, mitigation strategies such as limiting any unnecessary heating time of the filament needs to be developed and tested in the future. Luckily, the technology of 3D printing is in its infancy stage and changes can be made to ensure that widespread health problems do not arise as a result of using commercial 3D printers.




Zhao, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Occupational safety|Design|Mechanical engineering

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