The ready availability of 3D printers for school, businesses and home office use means a whole new world of possibilities have opened up for designers and makers, and with that opportunity comes some uncertainty about how they can best be used.
As more printers take their place on desktops and in rapid prototyping and small scale manufacturing operations, using those devices safely will be an ongoing concern. As the majority of commercially available 3D printers make use of molten polymers driven through heated nozzles to melt the feedstock, the effects of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polylactic acid (PLA) fumes are, while not alarming, a reasonable concern for heavy users.
Some studies have found that Ultrafine Particles (UFP) are emitted from desktop 3D printers during operation. Studies of moderately high temperature thermal processing of thermoplastics, at least in large scale industrial extrusion equipment, have shown that both gases and particles are emitted during operation.
That's why indoor emissions from printers, and certainly those which lack mechanical ventilation or filtration accessories, should at least be a source of interest.
That's where companies like Sentry Air Systems, Inc. come into the picture. Their systems engineer clean air through the design and manufacturing of air purification systems. Sentry Air makes a line of floor, bench top, mounted and portable units aimed at a variety of applications from welding, soldering, manufacturing, laboratory and pharmaceutical operations which include several types of filter media such as ULPA, HEPA, ASHRAE, Carbon, Acid Gas and specialty blended filters.
They also make a line of ductless fume hoods, ducted exhaust hoods, custom hoods, portable clean rooms and a variety of accessories – and they're all built in the old United States.
Brent Richardson, who oversees the Maker Annex at the Children's Museum of Houston, decided that it might be a good idea to install such system at the museum.
"A big concern we had when designing the Chevron Maker Annex was air quality because the space has no windows," Richardson said. "We first looked to Sentry Air for a filtration solution regarding our laser cutter, but quickly realized the 3D printer would also be a challenge in the windowless room. With no space for a vent hood, Sentry Air helped us find the perfect workaround. One of the windows on the Makerbot was replaced with a hose mounting plate, allowing us to hook up the 3D printer to the hose from the filtration unit being used for our laser cutter."
Richardson was also part of documenting the process, and you can check that out here if you'd like a guide to building your own hood.