Chemical Insights Research Institute Introduces A New Interactive Data Portal for 3D Printing Emissions Information


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As 3D printing technologies remain popular and available to the public, concerns exist about the health impact of chemical and particle emissions released during their operation. This is especially true when printers are used in small or poorly ventilated indoor environments, and when vulnerable users like children are involved. The non-profit organization Chemical Insights Research Institute (CIRI), of UL Research Institutes has been answering questions about this health concern by conducting scientific research and providing science-based resources around the safety of 3D printing. CIRI began its research in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology in 2015 when it initiated a multi-year project to characterize emissions from 3D printers. Since then, its research has expanded by studying diverse technologies and a wide array of print media and applications of 3D printing. In their new interactive data portal, CIRI has consolidated its research data and made it available for people interested in 3D printing.

CIRI’s research found that during operation, 3D printers can emit hundreds of different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which are known irritants, odorants, and carcinogens. Without mitigation, some of the VOCs measured during printing may exceed current recommended exposure guidelines for acceptable indoor air quality. In addition, 3D printing particle emissions can reach up to one trillion particles per hour and are mostly ultrafine particles (smaller than 100 nm in size) which can be inhaled and penetrate deeply into the lungs resulting in adverse cardiovascular and pulmonary health effects. In fact, without mitigation, particle exposure levels can exceed those found near a busy highway. CIRI’s data show that printer operational parameters such as printer brand; print filament material, brand and color; and extrusion temperature all have a measurable impact on emission levels of particles and VOCs.

This research has led to numerous resources providing accessible, understandable, and actionable information on alleviating these potential health hazards and allowing users to innovate safely using 3D printing. One big win came when the stakeholder consensus ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard, ANSI/CAN/UL 2904 Standard Method for Testing and Assessing Particle and Chemical Emissions from 3D Printers was published. This standard allows for consistent and accurate measurements of particle and chemical emissions from defined printers and print media and provides acceptance criteria for indoor air. It also allows purchasers and users to identify printers that were tested and certified to meet low emission criteria.

Data from CIRI’s new 3D printing data portal.

As CIRI continues to expand their 3D printing research by investigating new 3D printing technologies and mitigation methods, their findings are published in scientific journals and presented at technical conferences. Still, transparency and accessibility of their research are core values at CIRI. With the launch of their new website, access to the new interactive data portal was made public. This data portal houses all research data generated from CIRI’s research on particle and chemical emissions from fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing as tested according to ANSI/CAN/UL 2904. Users can explore and interact with the data in real time to display particle and chemical emission information for selected filament materials that are commonly available on the market. Specifically, users can find particle and individual VOC emission rates; specific VOCs emitted and their associated health or indoor air quality concerns; the impact of print conditions on emissions; and comparison to acceptable emission criteria. Data can be presented in figures and tables that can be downloaded and users can sort and search to find specific data of interest.

About the Authors

Dr. Qian Zhang is a research scientist at Chemical Insights Research Institute of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Her research focuses on the measurement of particle and chemical emissions from emerging technologies, like 3D printing and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDs). Dr. Zhang addresses aerosol characterization, human toxicity impact, and evaluation of processes for reducing human exposure. She holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Dr. Cristi Bell-Huff is a Research Manager with Chemical Insights Research Institute. She manages and tracks strategic research initiatives and develops internal and external technical documents and summaries of findings. Dr. Bell-Huff previously served as a Lecturer and the Director of Faculty and Student Training in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. She has also been an engineering faculty member at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. She holds a PhD and MS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University, an MA in Education from the University of Michigan, and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

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