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Research on the safety of 3D printing begins

The aim of the project is to ensure that 3D printing is safe for employees, at all stages of the process.

The Nanosafety Research Centre of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), in collaboration with Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, has launched a study of 3D printing work environments. This study is the first of its kind in Finland; in fact the subject has been studied very little anywhere in the world. The aim of the project is to ensure that 3D printing is safe for employees, at all stages of the process. The results are also beneficial for home users of these printers.

The study uses measurements and expert assessments to examine employees’ exposure to particles and gaseous impurities during the different stages of the 3D printing process. The results will help the researchers assess employees’ exposure to impurities in the air as well as the health effects of exposure. Another aim is to find methods for controlling emissions and risks.

– This study is extremely timely. The results are sure to awaken international interest. For a long time now we have highlighted the technological possibilities of 3D printing, as well as the safe, well-informed use of its methods, says Jukka Tuomi, President of the Finnish Rapid Prototyping Association FIRPA, also a member of the project’s steering group.

The aim of the project is to produce guidelines for safe working methods in 3D printing and for the safe use of the devices. The guidelines are for the organizations that use the printers, their employees, and for the manufacturers and importers. With their help, new production facilities meant for 3D printing can be designed as safely as possible from the onset, and made as suitable as possible for the work.

Safe use of 3D printers must also be remembered at home

The results can also help in recognizing the risks involved in recreational and home printing. Recreational 3D printers typically melt thermoplastic materials, and this melting process creates emissions that may be harmful to health. Homes do not have local exhaust ventilation systems that effectively remove the emissions from rooms. In addition, international online stores make materials for the devices easily available, and these materials may not necessarily have been examined in accordance with EU statures, or may not be suitable for home or amateur use.

– We still do not know enough about the emissions of 3D printers or of how hazardous these emissions are. This is why good ventilation must be ensured while printing, both at home and at the workplace, in order to avoid health problems, informs Anna-Kaisa Viitanen, Specialist Research Scientist at FIOH.

– For private use at home, I recommend devices bought from a Finnish or European retailer. If you make jewellery, for example, or other products that are in long-term contact with the skin, you should check with the supplier of the material that it is suitable to be used for this purpose. As the manufacturer, you are always responsible for the safety of your products, reminds Tuomi.

The main financial sponsor of the project is The Finnish Work Environment Fund. Alphaform Finland, EOS Finland and miniFactory Ltd, three Finnish 3D printing companies are also involved in the project.

Further information

  • Anna-Kaisa Viitanen, Specialist Research Scientist, DSc (Tech.), FIOH, tel. +358 43 825 0672, [email protected]
  • Jukka Tuomi, Research Director, Aalto University; President of the Finnish Rapid Prototyping Association FIRPA, tel. +358 500 713 420, [email protected]
  • Kaarle Hämeri, Professor, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 568 4487, [email protected]

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