3D Printing

Is 3D printing safe? UL publishes Safety Science of 3D Printing

The results of a 2 year investigation looking at desktop 3D printer emissions are now available.

Published as the proceedings of the Safety Science of 3D Printing Summit held in Atlanta, Georgia earlier this year, the authors “hope this exchange of information will enable more collaborative discussions, research, innovation, informed policy advancement, and science based initiatives leading to the safe of use 3D printers.”

The short answer to the question, Is 3D printing safe?


“Exposure levels are generally low”

A longer answer can be found in a 24 page study conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in conjunction with Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. The research includes,

Measurement methodologies; exposure models; continuing research needs; toxicity measurements of particle emissions; and communication to the public and users of 3D printers for minimizing emission exposure and public health impacts. 

Marilyn Black, Ph.D. VP & Senior Technical Advisor, Underwriters Laboratories Inc calls for a, “standardized method for measuring and assessing the emissions released during printing.”

In a welcome to the study Black explains, “This will allow for consistent and comparative data to be obtained from laboratories, machine manufacturers, and suppliers of filaments.” The UL Senior Technical Advisor summarizes the findings,

Emissions from 3D printing can be a source of ultrafine particles in the nanoparticle size range as well as a source of certain VOCs, some of which are odorants, irritants, and chronic or acute hazards. These exposure levels are generally low and complete risk assessments have not been conducted, but a precautionary approach of providing good building ventilation with outdoor air exchange and local ventilation in areas where 3D printing is occurring would be prudent.

Controlling emissions from a 3D printer

Dr. Parham Azimi from the Illinois Institute of Technology conducted tests in a closed 45 m3 office environment to detect ultrafine particles. The results showed that 3D printing with ABS printer, “the total ultrafine particle emission rate was 1.9 x 1011 particles/minute, and for a PLA printer, the total ultrafine particle emission rate was 2.0 x 1010 particles/minute.”

Dr Azimi gives a summary of control strategies for the emissions from a 3D printer. These include, “upgrading central HVAC filtration with a higher efficiency filter impregnated with activated carbon; operating a portable, stand-alone air-cleaner in near-distance zones with a clean air delivery rate of 100 or 300 m3 /hr; installing spot ventilation systems in near-distance zones; and creating custom-made enclosures.

Articles in the proceedings include,

  • Evaluation and Control of Human Exposures to Emitted Ultrafine Particles and Volatile Organic Compounds from Desktop 3D Printers
  • Chemical Emissions from a Desktop 3D Printer
  • Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Laser Printer Particle Emission Testing
  • Characterization of Chemical and Particle Emissions from Consumer FDM™ 3D Printers

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Featured image shows students at the CMU lab. Photo via CMU College of Engineering.