New project explores health risks with 3D printing

The KK Foundation grants just over SEK 4 million for an interdisciplinary project that will explore the effects of additive manufacturing particles on health. The goal is a safer working environment for those working in the industry.

Additive manufacturing, AM – or 3D printing – as it is sometimes called, has become increasingly common over the last ten years. But even though more and more companies and institutions are now printing, for example, spare parts or components in plastics or metal, little is known about the effects of the small particles contained in the powders used in manufacturing, on health.

“We know from other studies that small particles that you inhale can easily be absorbed through the lungs and get into the bloodstream. If the particles are really small, they can also enter the cells, which can lead to different effects depending on the properties of the particles,” says Magnus Engwall, professor of environmental toxicology who studies environmental toxins at MTM, Man-Technology-Environment research centre at Örebro University. 

With the support of the KK Foundation, he will lead the two-year research project Nanosafety, which is a collaboration between industry and researchers in the Örebro region. Researchers from several different areas participate in the project: MTM and Mechanical Engineering research environment at Örebro University, Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital in Örebro and the research environment iRiSC, Inflammatory Response and Infection Susceptibility, which consists of researchers at both the university and the Region Örebro County.

AMEXCI: “Participation is self-evident”

The project also includes two companies: Absolent AB, a company that develops and manufactures equipment that purifies polluted air in the industry, and AMEXCI, a Wallenberg initiative located in Karlskoga, which brings together eleven Swedish large companies in additive manufacturing. Kim Färnlund, metallurgist and safety representative at AMEXCI, says that the working environment and safety are one of the four main areas defined in the strategic research agenda developed by Swedish industrial companies for additive manufacturing.

 “As the development progresses in the area of ​​powder-bed based additive manufacturing, we must understand what the impact on humans and the environment actually looks like. Our goal is to be able to maintain a good working environment for industry players who handle this type of powder and therefore it is natural for us to participate in the Nanosafety project,” he says.

The first stage is about mapping where in an additive manufacturing process that particles are created and what these particles look like. In the second stage the researchers will explore how these particles affect the worker.

“By testing the effect different types of particles have on cells in test tubes, we can gain knowledge about which particles give increased risk to health, as well as important knowledge for companies about where these particles occur in production. We will also take samples of those working in this environment to detect long-term effects on the immune system and find out if, for example, there is an increased risk of inflammation, which in turn can cause cancer or cardiovascular disease,” says Eva Särndahl, professor of medicine and research leader at iRiSC. 

An important step towards a safe work environment

The goal is to use the knowledge and results of the Nanosafety project to create a safer work environment for those who work with additive manufacturing. Here, cooperation with companies in the industry is important, says Eva Särndahl.

“It feels great to work with a company like AMEXCI and we also hope to get more companies from the region involved in this project.”

Mikael Melitshenko, business and project developer at Alfred Nobel Science Park, will serve as chair of the reference group for Nanosafety and also has the task of linking companies and researchers. He believes that the results of the project will be of great importance to the industry.

“We see that more and more people are investing in a 3D printer, which is often placed in a lab environment or in an ordinary room, where the environment may not have been adapted with, for example, ventilation and separate filters for each room. These are the first, important steps towards being able to create as environmentally safe AM factories as possible in the future,” he says.

Text: Anna Lorentzon, Communications Manager, Örebro University

For more information about the project, please contact:

Magnus Engwall, Örebro universitet: + 46 70-290 38 91, +46 19- 30 36 06
Kim Färnlund, AMEXCI: +46 72-506 81 00
Mikael Melitshenko, Alfred Nobel Science Park:  +46 70-795 78 84

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