Why Safety Matters in the 3D Printing Experience

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By Andy Kalambi, CEO and President

Why Safety Matters in the 3D Printing Experience

It is a strange question for an industry which has been around for over three decades… after all safety is the minimal requirement… so is the industry not promoting safe practices and usage? To clarify, industrial 3D printing has taken safety seriously and ensured that even though printers use powders, chemicals and have emissions, they have been managed reasonably well to ensure that trained, expert users are able to operate the equipment with all the safeguards prescribed. However, in recent times this industry has spiraled in growth is the desktop 3D printer market which has taken the printer out of the controlled space and put it in offices, schools, homes and even hospitals. The technology which has enabled this proliferation is the Fused Filament Fabrication process which has enabled printers to use polymer filaments to build parts by using an extrusion process which melts the plastic at high temperatures. As this technology became open source, vendors rushed to build their own versions of the systems with little understanding of the risks it would create for the health and safety of users who would use these printers. Delivering a safe experience in 3D Experience has to be done in a thoughtful way – every touch point has to be designed-in for safety. Let us examine how we achieve safety at every step:

Model Preparation: 3D Printing starts with design and it is important to ensure that authoring is secure, traceable and repeatable. This means that the digital model should move into the physical world of the part with a digital thread which enables full traceability of the author and all relevant information on the part.

System Preparation: 3D Printing systems have to be prepared for the job. This involves using glues to coat the build plate, removal of residual parts and aligning the printer. This involves using glues that may have some toxic elements and VOCs.

Material Preparation: Most 3D Printing materials like ABS, Nylon have high moisture absorption. A user recently shared with me his frustration that the material he uses cannot be out in the atmosphere for more than 15 minutes, after which it is rendered useless and has to be disposed of. Since the material is not safe to be put in a bin it needs to be disposed in a controlled manner. More waste of any plastic material harms the environment and creates long term safety issues.

System Operation: One the machine starts printing, the material is extruded at high temperatures, resulting in melting the polymer. This releases ultra-fine particles ( UFP) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Scientific studies have shown that these are detrimental to health and safety of people in the vicinity.

Post-Processing of the Part: The ‘dirty secret’ of the 3D printing world is the post-processing which involves removal of supports and finishing of parts to make them suitable for usage. This process can range from just simply breaking away the supports to using toxic chemicals, which seemingly look safe as they are ‘water soluble’. These chemicals to be managed carefully and disposed off even more carefully.

Usage of the part: 3D printed parts are used in offices, schools and even hospitals by engineers, students, clinicians, patients. Plastic by its very nature can create toxicity and needs to be carefully chosen to ensure it is people-safe for skin touch and food-safe for any inadvertent it may come in touch with food items that may be at the workplace.

At RIZE, we focused on designing-in safety into the 3D printing user experience at every step of this process. We innovated on the process, on the material science, on the equipment operations, the post-processing and the usage of the parts. Safety is key to the growth of any industry. Any user experience starts with safety and ease of use. Learn more about safety in our industry at www.rize3d.com/choose-rize

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