on August 12, 2020 in Manufacturing
By now, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard and read about 3D printing. Maybe it’s the neighbor down the road making little parts with their system, or you’ve seen a YouTube video on how it works, or perhaps you’ve heard of it in manufacturing rapid prototyping. Well, 3D printing is all of that and more and is one of the fastest-growing areas in global manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has been gaining traction over the past decade as a preferred method of part and product production for both hobbyists and industrial manufacturing companies. It is a very cost-effective way to rapidly produce both simple and complex shapes in a prototyping environment. The materials used range from flexible to rigid and from metals to plastics, with new materials created regularly. 3D printing has given inventors and engineers the ability to move through concepts to create a finalized product in a fraction of the time. In years past, prototyping may have included developing expensive wooden models, or handcrafted resin versions. However, 3D printing is proving to be a more cost-effective method for low-volume manufacturing than standard molding practices, and the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can make as there are many shapes you can make on a 3D printer that would not be feasible to make otherwise.
The Three Most Common 3D Printing Methods:
- FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling): melted plastic is extruded through a hot nozzle to create very thin layers that are printed one at a time to create a 3D print.
- SLA (Stereolithography): the part is created by an ultraviolet laser that draws each printed layer in a bath of liquid thermoset resin that solidifies once the laser hits it. The build plate recedes further into the liquid bath to create room for the next layer to be printed.
- SLS (Selective Laser Sintering): the part is created by a high-power laser that sinters either powdered metal or plastics together. The build plate recedes further into the liquid bath to create room for the next layer to be printed.
The Dangers in 3D Printing
As promising and safe as this technology sounds, there are still some inherent dangers, with the largest being dust explosions. All 3D printing methods produce dust and other small particles that can become airborne quickly, and remain airborne for some amount of time.
Many materials are combustible that may not seem like it at first, such as metals and some plastics, but when those materials are small enough, it does not take a lot to cause them to ignite. For any sort of combustion to take place, there needs to be a fuel source, an ignition source, and oxygen, all of which are often very present in a manufacturing environment. To become explosive, a cloud of dust and some sort of confinement of that dust need to be present. One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of a dust explosion is using a dust collection system that recirculates the air through filters specifically designed to remove dust. By removing the dust, you have eliminated the fuel source for a dust explosion to take place.
Additionally, and most importantly, is to eliminate the risk of open electrical sparking or exposed electrical current. This is generally accomplished by using specific industrial vacuum systems that remove static and is certified for use with hazardous and explosive materials. In the USA, businesses use the National Electric Code (NEC) designations to identify what systems are approved for what type of flammable materials. It is best to familiarize yourself and your safety personnel with these NEC codes before investigating your specific vacuum options. Goodway Technologies offers a quick review of NEC codes that you can refer to here and a variety of wet and dry industrial vacuums certified for hazardous and flammable material pickup, in electric and air-powered models.
Powderpart Inc. Dust Explosion of 2013
To give an example of a dust explosion that has happened in an additive manufacturing facility, we will look at the Powderpart Inc. dust explosion in 2013. This dust explosion resulted in the third-degree burn of an employee, and one willful and nine serious violations of workplace safety standards. This explosion occurred due to several reasons including ignoring manufacturer safety instructions, locating ignition and fuel sources too close together, unsuitable electrical equipment and wiring for a high explosion risk location, lack of employee training in explosion dangers, and general lack of awareness of the risks at hand. Accidents usually happen when several mistakes are made, so it is essential to make sure that safety standards are being adhered to. Make sure to identify all hazards, train all personnel in the dangers present, and that danger is identified correctly.
Additive manufacturing has opened a whole new world of possibilities for the manufacturing industry. Still, like all manufacturing, there are risks involved, and it is essential to take the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of those risks coming to light. Explosion-proof vacuums can play a big part in providing a safer environment for additive manufacturing. It is also essential to listen to manufacturer recommendations, especially when concerning safety and follow all OSHA guidelines to create a safe working environment for the employees in the additive manufacturing industry.
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