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Reducing ultrafine particulate emission from multiple 3D printers in an office environment using a prototype engineering control


Recent studies have shown that high concentrations of ultrafine particles can be emitted during the 3D printing process. This study characterized the emissions from different filaments using common fused deposition modeling printers. It also assessed the effectiveness of a novel engineering control designed to capture emissions directly at the extruder head. Airborne particle and volatile organic compound concentrations were measured, and particle emission rates were calculated for several different 3D printer and filament combinations. Each printer and filament combination was tested inside a test chamber to measure overall emissions using the same print design for approximately 2 h. Emission rates ranged from 0.71 × 107 to 1400 × 107 particles/min, with particle geometric mean diameters ranging from 45.6 to 62.3 nm. To assess the effectiveness of a custom-designed engineering control, a 1-h print program using a MakerBot Replicator+ with Slate Gray Tough polylactic acid filament was employed. Emission rates and particle counts were evaluated both with and without the extruder head emission control installed. Use of the control showed a 98% reduction in ultrafine particle concentrations from an individual 3D printer evaluated in a test chamber. An assessment of the control in a simulated makerspace with 20 printers operating showed particle counts approached or exceeded 20,000 particles/cm3 without the engineering controls but remained at or below background levels (< 1000 particles/cm3) with the engineering controls in place. This study showed that a low-cost control could be added to existing 3D printers to significantly reduce emissions to the work environment.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the NIOSH Nanotechnology Research Center cross-sector program (Paul A. Schulte and Charles L. Geraci, co-managers), Matt Duling for assistance in the study, and Ryan LeBouf for analysis of canister samples. Additionally, the authors would like to thank MakerBot for partnering with NIOSH to expand and share knowledge specific to the health and safety within this industry. The authors thank Len Zwack, PhD, and Aleks Stefaniak, PhD, CIH, for review of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kevin H. Dunn.

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The findings and conclusions in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mention of any company or product does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Dunn, K.L., Hammond, D., Menchaca, K. et al. Reducing ultrafine particulate emission from multiple 3D printers in an office environment using a prototype engineering control. J Nanopart Res 22, 112 (2020).

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  • 3D printing
  • Air sampling
  • Printer emissions
  • Engineering controls
  • Exposure assessment
  • Occupational health effects