May 22, 2014

Woburn, MA based 3D printing company Powderpart Inc. was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for one willful and nine serious violations of workplace safety standards after an explosion and fire on Nov. 5, 2013, which inflicted third-degree burns on a company employee. The company faces a total $64,400 in penalties.

Images: Powderpart

OSHA said it found that the company failed to prevent and protect its workforce from the fire and explosion hazards of reactive, combustible metal powders, such as titanium and aluminum alloys, which are used in the company's 3D printing process.

"The fire and explosion hazards when working with titanium and aluminum are established, particularly when the materials are in powder form," said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. "Just as it's easier to start a campfire with kindling than with logs, it's easier for a metal fire to start when you're working with metal powder that is as fine as confectioner's sugar."

Powderpart failed to eliminate known sources of potential ignition and follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers, and did not alert the Woburn Fire Department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials, according to OSHA. Additionally, Powderpart located an employee workstation and flammable powders next to an area with explosion potential.

In addition to the fire and explosion dangers, other serious hazards included:

  • The use of unapproved electrical equipment.
  • Electrical equipment and wiring that were unsuitable for a hazardous location.
  • Failure to train employees on chemical hazards and safeguards.
  • Failure to supply employees with all necessary protective clothing, equipment and training.
  • No written respiratory protection program.
  • Failure to post danger tags in potentially explosive areas.

"Establishments that use metal powders in this new technology need to scrutinize their processes and take steps to prevent and protect their employees from fire and explosion hazards that arise with these materials," said Robert Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "The market for 3-D printed parts made from titanium and aluminum alloys includes the automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, dental and jewelry industries. Basic safety measures must be incorporated into this 21st century technology, so that it can grow without harming the employees who are building this new industry."

Image: Powderpart

One willful violation, with a $14,000 penalty, was cited for Powderpart's failure to have any Class D metal fire extinguishers. OSHA said it found that Powderpart was aware that titanium and aluminum fires cannot be extinguished with a regular fire extinguisher or with water, and knew that its manufacturing process presented potential fire hazards; however, there were no Class D metal fire extinguishers on-site during the explosion and fire.

Nine serious violations, with $50,400 in penalties, were cited for the remaining hazards.

Powderpart has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply or contest the findings. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees.

Posted in 3D Printer Company


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John wrote at 5/26/2014 1:02:06 PM:

And this is why we don't have 3D metal printers at home. Even when the patents expire. There is more involved than firing a laser into a box of metal dust.

jd90 wrote at 5/24/2014 12:34:49 AM:

I hope most of these companies are better at handling this powder. This is "grain elevator explosion" type situation. Many materials that seem harmless can be very dangerous if it's a fine powder in the air. Other industries had to learn the hard way to very carefully control dust. It's a known problem and one that's manageable. Not managing it is inexcusable. Just because you're high tech doesn't mean you get to ignore history or forget your chemistry lessons.

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