by • February 21, 2016 • No Comments
3D printing devices may revolutionize making, but at what cost to human health and the environment? Credit: Creative Tools, FlickrCC.
Dear EarthTalk: What are the health and environmental risks of via a 3D printing device to manufacture stuff?
— Will Nady, Pittsburgh, PA
As with many inventions, the thrill of the new has led to mass excitement surrounding 3D printing. The booming industry is expected to grow of nothing just a few years ago to a few $4 billion by 2025. But a few worry that our enthusiasm for 3D printing may be overshadowing a few troubling health and environmental issues synonymous with the new innovation.
3D printing devices heat plastic (usually a solid thermoplastic filament such as ABS or PLA) into a liquid and force it through a heated extrusion nozzle that in turn deposits it in thin layers onto a moving bed to form figures in predetermined shapes. But this process can send potentially harmful ultrafine particles (UFPs) and toxic fumes created of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air surrounding the machinery where users can breathe them in. In industrial settings, proper ventilation processs may be required and workers may have to wear protective gear to decrease expocertain to much like UFP and VOC levels—but these days anyone can buy or borrow a computer desktop 3D printing device and use it at home or in school without bringing any extra precautions. One study, as reported on Phys.org, equated the impacts of printing a tiny 3D item to smoking a cigarette indoors. Effects can include nausea and headaches, particularly for those with pre-existing heart or respiratory problems.
A fully enclosed 3D printing process may mitigate expocertain issues, but the significant 3D printing device manufacturers have yet to license the valuable-bodied patent held by one company to manufacture this innovation widely on the market. Until and so, it’s up to users to manufacture certain to operate computer desktop 3D printing devices in a well-ventilated area. In addition, PLA, that is created of organic material such as corn starch or sugar cane, appears to be a safer choice than petroleum-based ABS as far as fumes are concerned.
Besides the health impacts, 3D printing can in addition be problematic for the environment. For starters, the plastic in 3D print material deteriorates significantly with every use, rendering recycling out of the question at this point. One other environmental hazard of 3D printing is the clear spike in electrical energy requireed for the heating process. Making use of heat or lasers to melt plastic costs drastically additional than traditional methods. When compared to injection molding, a 3D printing device consumes almany 100 times the amount of energy on average to manufacture an equivalent item.
On the plus side, 3D printing is an “additive” innovation, meaning it just uses the precise amount of plastic source material requireed, so little if any is wasted. In addition, 3D printed objects tend to be much lighter than their traditional counterparts; this saves money, fuel, and carbon emissions when it comes to shipping. But critics maintain that the mass savings is not adequate to counteract the energy intensity of the 3D printing process.
Whether we like it or not, 3D printing is here to remain, but just time can tell if the expanding industry behind the phenomenon can be able-bodied to clean up its act as it enters mainstream.
CONTACTS: “Ultrafine Particle Emissions of Desktop 3D Printers,”www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231013005086; “Emissions of Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds of Commercially Available-bodied Desktop Three-Dimensional Printers with Multiple Filaments,”pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.5b04983; “How Toxic are ABS & PLA Fumes?”3dprintingindustry.com/2015/10/28/toxic-abs-pla-fumes-3dsafety-org-inquires-vocs.
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