Exploring the Impact: Investigating Particle Exposure in Metal 3D Printing

Measurements have been carried out in companies and educational institutions engaged in metal 3D printing using powder bed fusion to assess health effects. The study aims to investigate, e.g., workers’ exposure to particles, total metal exposure, and early inflammatory effects.

“In metal laser powder bed fusion 3D printing processes, nanoparticles are formed. They are very small particles that can penetrate deep into the respiratory tract, even into the alveoli of the lungs. These hazards and symptoms are not well understood, and they have not been studied in Finland before, so it is important to examine exposure levels and   risks associated with the process,” says university lecturer Marko Hyttinen from the University of Eastern Finland.

He works in the Research Group of Indoor Environment and Occupational Hygiene, which is conducting the META3D project in collaboration with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The study investigates the concentrations and properties of chemical agents formed in metal 3D printing, as well as possible exposure routes and the transport of compounds in the body. Additionally, the study will assess the symptoms of workers, early inflammatory effects, and examines the health risks associated with exposure.

Thirteen companies and educational institutions engaged in metal 3D printing are participating in the study. Most of the measurement data has already been collected and is currently being analyzed. The participants in the study have shown enthusiasm for the project, as the information obtained from it is considered important.

From measurements to surveys

A comprehensive overview is formed by combining both measurement and survey data.

“At each workplace, we conduct occupational hygiene measurements, meaning we measure particle concentrations in the air using various methods. We measure the mass and number concentration of particles and examine the size and number distribution of particles,” describes senior researcher Maija Leppänen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Chemical analysis is also performed on samples to determine the concentrations of metals in the particles.

“Continuous monitoring devices are also used to gather information from the research environments, showing real-time particle concentrations. When measurement data is combined with information from the form filled out by workers, detailing their daily tasks, the work phases with the highest exposure levels are identified,” says postdoctoral researcher Antti Karjalainen from the University of Eastern Finland.

Personal samples are collected from voluntary participants to measure total metal exposure. Dermal exposure is assessed using hand wipe samples. Metal concentrations are also analyzed in urine and exhaled breath condensate samples.

In addition, symptoms possibly experienced by workers are surveyed.

Guidelines for good practices

The results can be used to assess whether the protection currently used in workplaces is sufficient or if additional measures are needed. A final research report will be published in spring 2025, and based on the results, guidelines for good work practices will also be developed.

“We aim to evaluate the situation in workplaces, and if we find that something needs to be done differently, we will provide them guidelines for safe work practices,” says Maija Leppänen.

The results will be published through various channels of the Finnish Work Environment Fund, which funds the project. The FAME ecosystem, which is led by DIMECC and includes 3D printing stakeholders, has been involved in the study and also shares information about the results to companies.

More information here.

Photo: Maija Leppänen