Mar 6, 2017 | By Tess

Researchers from the Built Environment Research Group, operating out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, have been testing desktop 3D printers for VOC and other particle emissions. The research has involved testing various commercial desktop 3D printers, such as the UP BOX+ 3D printer, to see whether features like an enclosed chamber and HEPA filter efficiently reduce UFP and VOC emissions, which can be harmful to one’s health.

The results of the study, which were recently published in a report titled “Enclosure performance: Ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) removal efficiency of desktop 3D printer enclosures,” show that the UP BOX+ adequately reduced emissions and particles. The printer’s enclosed chamber allowed for a 74% reduction in UFP emissions, and the HEPA filter system upped that percentage to 91%.

a) Open enclosure without the filtration system operating, b) Closed enclosure (with or without) the filtration system operating

One of the main concerns about 3D printing, especially desktop 3D printing, is a lack of regulations surrounding health hazards and the like. And while the technology might seem innocuous, many heated thermoplastic extrusion and deposition processes have been shown to produce significant gas and/or particle emissions. To explore whether VOC and UFP emissions are a risk factor for desktop 3D printing, the Built Environment Research Group has conducted a number of studies.

The first study, which was conducted in 2013, set out to measure UFP concentrations produced through the operation of a common desktop 3D printer. The results showed significant emission rates, comparable to that of cooking on a gas or electric stove, burning scented candles, operating laser printers, or burning a cigarette. From these findings, the researchers suggested that users operate 3D printers in well-ventilated spaces in order to reduce any potential health risks.

A more recent study, which was funded by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), sought to investigate emissions from desktop 3D printers in more depth. This meant testing a number of different desktop 3D printers and filaments in a controlled environmental chamber to see their respective UFP and VOC emissions. We covered the results of the study here.

Since then, the Built Environment Research Group has continued its research by testing new filament and 3D printer combinations, including the Lulzbot Mini 3D printer with various filaments (NinjaFlex Semi-Transparent, nGen Gray, n-vent White, INOVA-1800 Red, T-Glase Blue, Cheetah-Flexible White, and Alloy 910 White), and the UP BOX+ 3D printer (with HEPA filter) with ABS white.

The tests were conducted in a controlled environmental chamber, and used a 10 x 10 x 1 cm standardized sample as the test print. As the research report explains, “The UFP and speciated VOC emission rates were measured under various control system scenarios including: (1) open enclosure without the filtration system operating, (2) closed enclosure without the filtration system operating, and (3) closed enclosure with the filtration system operating.”

As mentioned, in testing the UP BOX+ 3D printer, the enclosed chamber reduced UFPs emitted by about 74%, while the HEPA filtration system reduced emissions by roughly 91%. VOC emission rates, for their part, were not found to be reduced from the enclosed chamber (and actually seemed to increase by 50%), but were reduced by about 20% with the filtration system. “However, a difference of 20% is within our estimated measurement uncertainty of ~36%, so these results should not be taken as definitive,” the researchers note.

Tiertime, the Chinese 3D printing company behind the UP BOX+ 3D printer, said of the study’s findings: “the enclosed design of the 3D printer is crucial to users’ health, and a built-in HEPA filter can play an important role in reducing the amount of UFP. We can conclude that UP BOX+ is the ideal and safer option for the user who prints with an ABS model 3D printer in an indoor environment like the office, classroom, and home.”



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