Thursday, July 25, 2013

3D printers emit a lot of ultra-fine particles, more research required

It's been years since studies showed that laser printers emitted a lot of material folks wouldn't want to be around. With that, is it any surprise to find out that home 3D printers, still in their infancy, emit a lot of junk, as well. That is the takeaway from a report issued on Thursday.

Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology decided to test a popular 3D printer model for ultrafine particle emissions, in order to get a rough idea of how many emissions are coming from these new-fangled devices.

The printers were used to print small plastic figures under normal operating conditions.

The results showed emission rates of ultra-fine particles (UFPs) were high, ranging from about 20 billion particles per minute for a 3D printer using a lower temperature polylactic acid (PLA) feedstock to about 200 billion particles per minute for the same 3D printer using a higher temperature acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) feedstock.

The effects of these 3D printer emissions on humans isn't known -- yet. Thermal decomposition products from ABS processing have been shown to have toxic effects on both mice and rats; oddly, however, PLA is known to be biologically compatible to humans, and PLA nanoparticles are even widely used for drug delivery.

The moral to the story for home gun makers:
Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.
Could fears over these emissions slow down the creation and printing of 3D guns, which the DHS is afraid may be unstoppable and create undetectable and untraceable firearms, no matter what legislation is put into place? Probably not.

It is, however, true that these emissions need to be considered for 3D printing, period.

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