3D printing is officially skyrocketing, with industrial applications in medical, biotech, aerospace, defense, and consumer electronics industries growing daily. At the heart of this acceleration is the additive manufacturing or AM process, which allows for easy printing from computer-aided design templates. As this new technology reaches its tipping point, review what the growth process says about the safety of 3D printing.
3D Printing: Additive Manufacturing at a Tipping Point
No longer solely the terrain of artists and inventors making one-off products, 3D printing is finally going mainstream: Major companies including GE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA and Google have adopted 3D printing as of 2014. This widespread adoption heralds the move of 3D printing away from niche technology and toward a mainstream staple of next-generation manufacturing.
In the 3D printing process, the printer deposits layers one at a time, essentially building up the prototype before bonds the layers together. In the laser sintering process, a special laser melts and fuses the layers together, to bring the design to life. Because employees can make changes to the prototype between items, it is relatively easy to make changes to the item color, size, or shape from one printed item to the next. This makes it possible for individual medical devices or accessories to be printed from a select stock of computer-aided design (CAD) templates.
Major companies like those mentioned above can afford to make the investment in 3D printing and AM because they have the funds to purchase the costly equipment needed for the initial foray. While 3D printers have become more widespread, they are not cheap. Compared with other types of manufacturing, it costs a lot to make something like an airplane part or a dental device using 3D printing over traditional printing.
However, the initial expenses in 3D printing represents the peak costs to the business. After the device or the part is perfected, the company can utilize the same equipment and printing patterns to effectively mass produce the unit. Aside from ongoing expenses for printing supplies, the cost to produce subsequent parts is quite low.
The competitive advantage of being able to offer something like a personalized medical device is well worth the initial cost of 3D printing. As printable materials continue to expand, more companies will invest in 3D printing to develop niche-appropriate custom products and solutions. This is not without its dangers to the business and its employees. Protect yourself by learning more.
The Hidden Dangers of 3D Printing
While it may seem like a safe process — and, indeed, the end result is quite safe — 3D printing does utilize some potentially dangerous materials. Argon gas is particularly common in certain types of 3D printing. In the printing process, the 3D printer deposits thin layers of powder to effectively build the form that is being produced. The argon gas allows the different layers of powder to fuse together during the laser sintering, bringing the product to life in three dimensions.
Argon is relatively inexpensive and highly effective at this task, which accounts for its widespread use in this new niche. However, argon is also a dense gas that is naturally heavier than oxygen. Were argon to escape from the 3D printing environment and enter the workshop or manufacturing floor, it would deplete the oxygen in the room. Any staff working there would thus face death by asphyxiation. Since argon is colorless and odorless, there is no easy way for staff to tell there is a problem.
As 3D printing becomes more widespread, businesses must take the appropriate safety measures to ensure a safe working environment. They must inspect printing equipment to ensure that it is functioning properly and argon will remain contained in the printer. They must also introduce safeguards to protect staff in case of a malfunction.
One simple and cost-effective solution is to install an oxygen monitor, which is also known as an O2 monitor. This type of sensor continually monitors the levels of oxygen in the room. If oxygen levels falls below the critical safety levels, such that employee health would be threatened, the oxygen monitor sounds an alarm to alert staff to the health threat. Staff can then evacuate immediately, and appropriate measures can be taken to secure the workplace environment and protect the printing technology.
PureAire offers sophisticated O2 monitors, which use a 10+ year no calibration sensor to offer durable everyday protection. PureAire’s sensors are the perfect choice for 3D printing environment protection. To learn more about PureAire’s lineup of oxygen monitor for argon gas detection, please visit http://www.pureaire.net or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.