May 19, 2015 | By Alec

The 3D printing revolution is steadily progressing, with the number 3D printers being used in homes, schools and businesses growing continuously and an online community that is expanding and healthy. New and exciting 3D printing start-ups are also popping out of the ground everywhere, ensuring that innovation and price competitiveness remain at the core of the 3D printing industry. In short, things are going well. But shouldn’t we also start wondering if all that molten plastic is such a good thing?

After all, plenty of plastics can be quite toxic and the same can be said for the fumes they give off when melted. Some filaments produce an awful smell during 3D printing, but as there’s currently no oversight on the 3D printing business whatsoever, we have no way of knowing whether or not these filaments are bad for our health. What’s more, just about every manufacturer uses different ingredients to make the filaments sent to our doorsteps.

And that is exactly where the Clean Strands certification comes in. For while there are a few industrial certifications for plastics (ROHS and REACH), none of these consider molten plastics in schools and people’s homes. Founder of Clean Strands Rachel Spieczny is seeking to change all that, and is trying to create a label for all filament packaging that will enable users and teachers to immediately see whether or not they are bringing something poisonous into their homes or classrooms. Who in their right mind wants to poison themselves and children?

The idea for this excellent initiative first came to Rachel in 2014, when she began 3D printing in her own home with her two young children. ‘The fumes were so strong that I had to run around the house opening all of the windows,’ she recalls. Wondering what this did to her health and that of her children, she began searching for information on filament toxicity. Quickly discovering that she wasn’t alone with questions about the environmental and health effects of PLA and ABS, she like so many others was simply told that ‘more research needs to be done.’

What was clear, however, is that few filament manufacturers bothered seeking health labels for their products. Attending the International Consumer Electronics Show in January 2015, she only found one manufacturer with the ROHS and REACH labels. So she has since decided to help all of us by launching a consumer Seal of Approval for 3D printing filament to ensure this hobby becomes and stays as safe as it looks.

Of course, this isn’t an easy process and requires careful cooperation with scientists. Clean Strands will therefore team up with the Built Enironment Research Group (or BERG) from the Illinois Institute of Technology. ‘First, we need to find out which chemicals are being emitted into the air when 3D printing with PLA and ABS? And in what concentrations? BERG is the only research lab that has published an extensive study on indoor air quality and 3D printing,’ she explains. The BERG team, led by dr. Brent Stephens, will test the UFPs (ultra-fine particles) and TVOCs (total volatile organic compounds) of about ten to twenty of the most commonly used PLA and ABS filaments and at varying degrees of temperature, to fully understand what’s going on and what is and isn’t released into the air we breathe.

‘Next, we need to set a standard for safe indoor air quality when 3D printing with PLA and ABS. To learn more about indoor air emissions, we've partnered with Ramboll ENVIRON, a global environmental consultancy, specializing in air emissions,’ Rachel explains her next step. ‘The team at Ramboll ENVIRON, led by Principal Joseph W. Hower, PE, DEE, will help us evaluate which chemicals, in addition to which concentrations of those chemicals, could be hazardous to our health and to the environment. We'll combine this research with data from the lab to form our Clean Strands™ set of standards.’

Once all that data is assembled and understood, it will be publicly shared with users, filament manufacturers and so on. Hopefully, the manufacturers will become convinced to add a Clean Strands Seal of Approval to their packaging to enable users to immediately see what’s going on. ‘Unlike other 3rd party certifiers who solicit companies to submit products for testing and offer certification for a fee, Clean Strands will remain impartial, and no fee will be charged to filament manufacturers for either testing or receipt of the Seal of Approval,’ Rachel says.

This is, in short, a fantastic and independent initiative that could benefit the 3D printing community as a whole. What’s more, the response from some manufacturers keen to prove that their products are not hazardous for your health have also been good. ‘At 3D Printhuset, the world’s largest 3D printing retail store, we are often asked about potential health risks of particles from filament used in particular desktop 3D printers. 3D Printhuset prioritizes safety first, and welcomes a well-tested Seal of Approval, that can add credibility and acceptance to a relatively young industry,’ founder of 3D Printhuset Jim Larsen said in response.

Really the only downside of this Seal of Approval is that it doesn’t exist yet and doesn’t come cheap. To ensure that the concept will remain entirely independent (rather than a slave of the manufacturers it is supposed to oversee), Clean Strands has turned to Kickstarter and the 3D printing community to fund this project. Having just launched a crowdfunding campaign, Rachel is seeking to raise $50,000 to finance all the research and oversight. Check out Rachel’s Kickstarter campaign here and think about it. After all, we as a community have funded so many ‘fun’ 3D printing projects, we should be able to fund a very good and very important one as well!



Posted in 3D Printing Materials


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Kirk T wrote at 5/20/2015 9:30:03 AM:

3D printing should always take place with proper ventilation. Period.

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