Is 3D Printing Damaging to our Health?

Here on the FMS Blog, we’ve regularly discussed the positive aspects of 3D printers and 3D printing in general. From 3 reasons to own a 3D printer in 2018 to the 3D printer that reaches new heights, we’ve always believed in the benefits that 3D printing can provide. But could a new study provide a form of caution for the long terms use of 3D printers? We take a closer look in today’s article.

3D printing and 3D printers have now become a popular form of manufacturing technology amongst both businesses and independent creatives. According to official statistics, almost half a million 3D desktop printers were sold across the world last year. From creating new medication to fully built houses, 3D printers are currently able to achieve some impressive feats, and their momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. But a brand new case study by German environmental association Umweltbundesamt tries to clarify some potential environmental and personal health challenges that 3D printing technologies might possess. Here’s what they found.

Greenhouse Gasses and Indoor Air Pollution

Breaking down the first part of their findings report, Umweltbundesamt analysed and assessed the 3D printing process in full. From their tests, they found that 3D printers are more likely to produce a higher level of greenhouse gases due to the high energy demand to power them. In terms of indoor air pollution, it’s said that the release of particulate matter and nanoparticles from materials is much higher than the values which have been set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. You can find their recommendations here.

Particulate Matter Infographic

And this can be a cause of concern to those that work in industrial environments too. Should workers in these situations come into contact with or accidently inhale nanoparticles from the 3D printing process, then this could present them with some minor and sometimes major, health issues. The use of plastic material is also a cause for concern. Due to their structure being petroleum based, this can be a contributory factor to further greenhouse gasses and environmental pollution.

Benefits of Bioprinting

The report does stress that it’s not all bad news however. A developed use of bioprinting using 3D printers is said to prove of benefit in terms of its environmental impact. New abilities such as printing organic animal tissue and other tissue from cells could even improve the food and leather industries as we know them today. When using a bioprinting method, being able to produce artificial meat requires much less energy than the conventional methods, up to 45% less in fact. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, bioprinting also has the means to combat this too, causing 96% less of contribution to greenhouse gasses.

Bioprinting Printer

For plant life and environmental surroundings, artificial meat production using 3D printers and bio-printing shows some other clear benefits. With much concern placed on conserving natural crops and farming land, bioprinting can use 99% less land and almost 96% less water compared to that used in conventional meat production. Should more industries and individuals further develop the possibilities behind bioprinting methods, then we could see a shift to a more sustainable manufacturing process and more sustainably produced products.

Final Findings

Summarising their research, the association suggests that any further potential impacts are still tough to evaluate at this stage. Whilst the initial findings strongly indicate that 3D printing could damage our health in some aspects, there are also benefits within the bio-industry that should be considered too. For a full conclusion, they have stressed that further research is still necessary to establish the full, long-term health effects of using 3D printers.

However, it’s perhaps a bit soon to officially brand 3D printing as being a hazard to our health just yet. We’ll be sure to keep our eyes on this one and keep you updated.

Sam Rose