Three-dimensional (3D) printing is an increasingly popular technique for prototyping and additive manufacturing. The ever expanding number of applications for 3D printing technology means the industry is expected to increase from $0.7 Billion in 2019 to $5.6 Billion in 2026. 3D printing can use a variety of materials including plastic, resin, ceramics, wood, metal, graphite, nitinol, and paper. Due to the diversity of 3D printing applications, the scalable nature of 3D printing technology and the rapid growth of the industry, every 3D printing company is likely to hit a point where the need for fume extraction becomes apparent. Similar issues surrounding fugitive fumes caused by various production and fabrication processes exist in comparable industries like laser printing, laser etching and laser cutting to name a few. For the majority of these industries, there is an alarming lack of awareness and education revolving around the negative health impacts attributed to fugitive fume inhalation in the production phase. Even though 3D printing is a fairly new idea, fume extraction is not. For more than 20 years, Aeroex Technologies has been at the forefront of developing mist and fume extraction products for the industrial and commercial sectors. With decades of experience and expertise in air purification systems, the team at Aeroex was able to modify and improve on already highly efficient filtration technology to meet the specific needs of the 3D printing industry.
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Challenges of 3D and Laser Printing
With many institutional and DIY newcomers to the 3D printing realm, health and safety is becoming an increasingly discussed topic. To understand the health hazards associated with fugitive fume inhalation, we must first understand where the fumes come from. In the process of 3D printing, filament reels are melted by the printer as it moves along the pre-programmed path. While heating and melting the material, fumes are generated as a byproduct of the process. The composition of the fumes will depend on the material being printed. Some of the most common materials like thermoplastic polymers (e.g. ABS) are known to emit styrene, a suspected carcinogen that also causes headaches, drowsiness, and fatigue. Some materials can be substituted to reduce the toxicity levels of fumes, but this does not discount that fumes will be generated regardless of material. 3D printing often takes hours and even days to complete a project, with machines running for a long time to print each layer. 3D printing is an incredibly powerful and scalable technology, but output rates should not be limited by health and safety concerns and you should not have to downgrade your materials from durable thermoplastics to reduce the risk of these fumes. Instead, an air purification system designed for fume extraction in 3D printing will allow you to safely continue your prototyping or manufacturing work without compromise to productivity or health.
Aeroex’s 3D Printing Strategy
Before proposing a solution for 3D printing fumes, the engineers at Aeroex spent considerable time researching the nature of the fumes generated by 3D printing including the materials involved, equipment used, typical shop configurations, and the nature of the fumes released (composition and quantity). Much like our medical-grade air purification systems and/or mist extraction systems that are used for other processes that generate fumes like CNC machining, we apply the principles of source capture and ambient control. In the case of 3D printing, processes are usually quite modular and the sources of fumes are easy to pinpoint. Therefore, the source capture method is bound to be highly efficient because fumes can be extracted before they enter the ambient conditions of your shop, which would require purification of much larger volumes of air at lower concentrations. Our attention to strategy and deployment planning is a key consideration when many other air purifiers cite the performance of MERV or HEPA filters without a plan for you to experience this level of performance.
The Right Filter for the Job
Beyond our overall strategy, the filters in question will ensure complete fume extraction during 3D printing or laser printing. For fumes like styrene which are associated with 3D printing, Aeroex uses activated carbon filters with a HEPA standard for particle size and efficiency. HEPA (also known as high-efficiency particulate absorbing, as defined by the US Department of Energy and the EPA), has an efficiency rating of 99.97% for particles as small as 0.3 μm. Typically, fumes exist in the particle range smaller than one micron, making the HEPA filter the optimal application for 3D printing.
Commercial HEPA Air Filtration Systems with Activated Carbon
Activated carbon is a powerful technology that removes airborne gaseous chemicals through adsorption (adhesion of molecules to a surface without inducing solubility), which is why it’s a trusted part of sacred processes like the treatment of drinking water and wastewater. Activated carbon is also the focal point of Aeroex’s air purification systems design for fume extraction in 3D printing and laser printing. In an industry where claims about carbon are abound, Aeroex goes beyond the competition. We use real carbon made of coconut shells. While some companies will use small sprinkles of carbon in their filters so it can be cited in their product description, Aeroex goes as far as filling the filter media with small elongated pellets. During fume extraction, the air is pushed through the pellets to maximize the adsorption process, providing you with superior efficiency and long lasting filters.. The composition of our activated carbon and the sheer amount of it we use is a key reason to choose Aeroex, especially once you begin to understand the underlying “gold standard” technology of our products versus others who claim to provide fume extraction.
There are both established 3D printing practices in North America as well as quickly emerging companies that are still fine-tuning their processes. 3D printing companies are quickly realizing the need to focus on health and safety, but we would encourage you not to rush – instead take time to understand your fume sources and the purification technology. Some companies are offering “technologies” like bipolar ionizers, hydroxyl generators, and disinfectant foggers (as reported by outlets like Mother Jones and Colorado State University) that claim to be quick fixes, when in fact these will leave you at risk without the fume extraction you truly need. Due to the growth of 3D printing and the ever expanding variety of materials used for printing, the industry is still zeroing in on the best methods of industrial air filtration and ventilation, like our HEPA filters.
We Are Committed to Supporting the 3D Printing Industry
We understand 3D printing is a growing industry, and we want to ensure the health and safety of your workplace for the long term. Our superior quality means the fume extraction technology you receive will be long-lasting and scalable as your 3D printing business grows, while the filters we use have large amounts of media that reduce the overall costs of filter replacements, by widening the maintenance intervals and lowering the labour hours required for maintenance. This is why we have stationed every aspect of our product lifecycle in Canada, from manufacturing to customer support. While many larger companies outsource their customer service internationally, purchasing a made-in-Canada product means your air purification supplier is with you for the long haul. We want to make sure that your operations are successful and we will be there to help you make the right deployment and get the most out of our products. Check out our operation in Barrie Ontario, and contact us today to get started with your Canadian partner for air purification in laser printing and 3D printing.