Chemical Insights

Measuring the Chemical Safety Risks of 3D Printing

Underwriters Laboratories research characterizes chemical and particle emissions of 3D printing processes to evaluate the potential impact on human health.
3-D Printing

Understanding the human health impact of 3D printing

Three-dimensional (3D) printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is one of the fastest-growing industrial and consumer technologies, with an expected increase from $3.07 billion in revenue in 2013 to $12.08 billion by 2018. 

The benefits of desktop, consumer-oriented 3D printers are well-publicized, offering users in homes, classrooms, libraries and offices the ability to quickly manufacture three-dimensional objects on demand. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers—in which thermoplastic or composite material is heated to a semi-liquid state and then deposited in layers—are relatively inexpensive and convenient, making the technology widely accessible.

The health risks of emissions from these machines into the air, on the other hand, are less widely understood.

That’s why Chemical Insights, in partnership with leading U.S. universities, initiated discovery research to accurately characterize and measure the chemical and particle emissions from 3D printers. The study examines the impact of materials and operating parameters that affect the emissions and begins to evaluate the risks to indoor air quality and human health.

Keeping watch on indoor air pollution

Conducted in partnership with Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the first phase of research defined appropriate measurement techniques for the size and type of ultrafine particles and chemical emissions resulting from print processes in typical indoor environments. This was followed by toxicity studies of the aerosol particles using oxidative stress techniques for measuring the potential physiological impact on the respiratory system. 

Underwriters Laboratories also partnered with Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health to review and outline potential health hazards and steps for reducing exposure.


Fast Facts

  • A Underwriters Laboratories study identified and measured chemical and ultrafine particle emissions from 3D printing technologies to evaluate potential toxicity.

  • Consumer-level 3D printers are widely used, but there is a lack of data regarding their impact on indoor air quality.

  • This study defined accurate test methods for measuring 3D printer emissions and used state-of-the-art toxicity tools to evaluate health impact.

  • Research findings will assist users, manufacturers and policymakers in managing pollutant exposures and taking preventive measures to limit health concerns posed by 3D printing technology.