Seven ways to make your post-processing stage safer
09 June 2017
The post-processing stage of any additive manufacturing project is when a design really comes to life and takes on a professional look. However, to ensure the continued well-being of yourself and your teams, it’s always worth bearing in mind a few key points to avoid any risk of injury. We would recommend you treat the following points as a handy checklist and follow them during the post-processing stages of all your AM projects.
1) Check your material and chemical specifications
Being well-informed before post-processing begins will help you avoid dangerous mistakes. Your 3D printing materials and post-processing chemicals will be supplied with specification sheets, which should alert of you of any key points that need to be kept in mind from a safety point of view. If you are in any doubt, contact your supplier. In particular, a proper risk assessment of how materials react with different chemicals at the early project stages can prevent nasty surprises later.
2) Be patient before removing your part from the printing bed
Before post-processing can begin, your printed part must be removed from the printing bed. As these can reach extremely high temperatures, be sure you wait until the bed has cooled properly before removing the part. Consult your printer’s manufacturer if you are in any doubt about how long it should take to cool.
3) Always wear gloves and goggles
Many of the materials used for additive manufacturing can irritate skin and eyes, and may even be toxic if inhaled. This means any processing techniques that will give off fine particles of your material (sanding, for example) can prove a health risk. To protect yourself, always wear goggles, a face mask and neoprene or nitrile gloves when working.
4) Work in a well-ventilated area
This is essential when working with any sort of solvent for finishing parts, as the fumes given off may prove irritating, or even toxic. Even if you are not using any additional chemicals for post-processing, certain printing materials (ABS, for example) can give off toxic fumes when exposed to high temperatures, so exercise caution. This also applies when applying paints or finishing materials in spray form. If you are using techniques such as vapour polishing, which produce a large volume of toxic fumes, it may be worth purchasing a respirator. A dust extractor can also represent a good long-term investment from a health & safety point of view.
5) Do not work near any open flames or explosive materials
A number of 3D printing materials can be flammable or combustible under certain conditions. You should therefore ensure that your work area is free of any open flames or explosive materials. Furthermore, a class D fire extinguisher should always be readily accessible. This is especially important when 3D printing metal, as fires started by metal powder are extremely difficult to put out.
6) Be patient when finishing parts by hand
There’s no doubt that removing support structures from complex prints by hand can be extremely time-consuming and frustrating, but it’s important to exercise patience to avoid injuring yourself or damaging your print. Use a gentle touch and ensure you select the right tools for the job and wear special protective chain gloves at all times.
7) Make sure all material waste is disposed of safely
Support materials may contain harmful chemicals, and may be removed using corrosive substances that must be handled with care. Make sure there is a dedicated area set aside for safe disposal of waste materials.