Over the past few years several academic studies and industry stories have been written regarding the known health hazards associated with desktop FDM 3D printers. The dangers posed to us by the release of nanoparticles and ultrafine particles (NP/UFP), as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC) is beginning to be documented and studied. But unfortunately, probably because no one as far as we currently know has been seriously harmed, the dangers posed by this amazing new technology has been pretty much “out of sight, out of mind.” But it really should not be and the Zimple 2 filter can help.
Without turning this article into a health study thesis, all of us need to be aware of the dangers our machines may be exposing us to … and we need to learn what we can do about it. Obviously, the first rule is to NEVER use a printer in a sealed room. Good ventilation, to outside air, is the most basic safety step we must take. You may laugh, but don’t, it is a very easy to screw this up.
First, we must be aware of air flow patterns in our work spaces. Just having an open window or two is not sufficient as without good cross-ventilation, the clean outside air and the dirty inside air may not mix at all, leaving the pollution right where it is. Secondly, what happens in winter when someone gets cold? Or in summer when it gets too hot? Close the windows and turn on the heat / air conditioner? Better not …most commercial HVAC systems are not equipped with high efficiency filtration units and all you end up doing is “stirring up” and recycling the fumes and particles within your work space … and maybe even spreading them throughout the rest of the structure.
So what are we to do? We could, as some have suggested, enclose out printers in sealed boxes, or move them outdoors, or blast them with high-powered fans or a custom made fume exhaust system … but let’s be real for a second. How many of us WANT to put our printers in a box? Most of us barely have enough room for the printer, much less a box that doubles its footprint. Do you have a dedicated work room? Awesome … many many of us do not, we have to make room where we can, usually in a home office, den, or garage. Shared work spaces are not well suited to retrofitting specialized ventilation systems … and our family and children also share and use those spaces too.
So again … what are we to do? What if there was a simple, inexpensive, easy to use, filter that could be retrofitted to your existing printer (regar
dless of make or model) and is over 99% effective removing nanoparticles and over 90% effective removing VOCs? Now there is. A French startup company called “Zimple” is introducing their second version of a retrofittable 3D printer filtration system called the “Zimpure” and it is a much needed device for many of us.
Describing it in the simplest terms possible, it is a vacuum hose, a powerful blower fan, and a high-efficiency filter system enclosed in a small black pod. And yes, there are those critics (mostly on Reddit) who will tell you indignantly that it is over priced, cannot be truly effective at capturing all the particles / vapors, or that they could easily build it themselves … to which a reasoned response is much needed.
First, at €189 (expected full retail price) which is roughly $223 USD, it is a bit expensive … but certainly not outrageously so. Here’s the thing, society often undervalues safety equipment because when you have it and use it … nothing bad happens. And it is VERY easy to form a “nothing bad happened to me, therefore nothing bad will happen to me” attitude, even though the experience of millions of people forced to live or work in polluted areas or industries know all to well that good health is NOT a given. Think coal miners and black lung.
Second, yes it CAN capture most of the vapors and particles. It has been (and will continue to be) tested, and it has been shown to be effective. A close reading of the academic studies, especially those written by Dr. Brent Stephens at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Dr. Chungsik Yoon at Seoul National University in South Korea, both show that the point of pollution origin in desktop printers is the extruder, nearest the hotend. Zimpure is an aspiration filtration system … think of it like a tiny vacuum cleaner attached to the extruder. As the plastic filament melts, it begins to release the vapors and nanoparticles which are then immediately sucked up just as they become airborne.
Finally, yes. Yes you COULD design and make your own Zimpure-style filtration system. You already have a 3D printer and you could source some high efficiency filters to create your own system. Great! But seriously, how many of us will ACTUALLY do it? How many of us want to put in the time and sweat designing, testing, and redesigning our own systems? Experience leads me to believe that most of us will not. For many of us we have better things to do with our time, not to mention if we are going all in for a design project, an air filtration system for our 3D printer is probably not high on that list. And less we forget that most of us do not have access to laboratory-grade testing equipment to make sure that our design is actually effective.
So there you have it. An easy, affordable, attractive solution to one of the most dangerous and vexing problems the 3D printer community has. But if you’re not convinced, and you want to go to all the trouble of designing and building your own system, or encase your machine in a Plexiglas box, knock yourself out. Just do SOMETHING. Do not continue to use an unfiltered desktop printer, if not for your own safety, for the safety of those around you.