Purdue University Graduate School
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A Study of Additive manufacturing Consumption, Emission, and Overall Impact With a Focus on Fused Deposition Modeling

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posted on 2021-07-30, 03:08 authored by Timothy SimonTimothy Simon

Additive manufacturing (AM) can be an advantageous substitute to various traditional manufacturing techniques. Due to the ability to rapidly create products, AM has been traditionally used to prototype more efficiently. As the industry has progressed, however, use cases have gone beyond prototyping into production of complex parts with unique geometries. Amongst the most popular of AM processes is fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM fabricates products through an extrusion technique where plastic filament is heated to the glass transition temperature and extruded layer by layer onto a build platform to construct the desired part. The purpose of this research is to elaborate on the potential of this technology, while considering environmental impact as it becomes more widespread throughout industry, research, and academia.

Although AM consumes resources more conservatively than traditional methodologies, it is not free from having environmental impacts. Several studies have shown that additive manufacturing can affect human and environmental health by emitting particles of a dynamic size range into the surrounding environment during a print. To begin this study, chapters investigate emission profiles and characterization of emissions from FDM 3D printers with the intention of developing a better understanding of the impact from such devices. Background work is done to confirm the occurrence of particle emission from FDM using acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic filament. An aluminum bodied 3D printer is enclosed in a chamber and placed in a Class 1 cleanroom where measurements are conducted using high temporal resolution electrical low-pressure impactor (ELPI), scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), and optical particle sizer (OPS), which combined measure particles of a size range 6-500nm. Tests were done using the NIST standard test part and a honeycomb infill cube. Results from this study show that particle emissions are closely related to filament residence time in the extruder while less related to extruding speed. An initial spike of particle concentration is observed immediately after printing, which is likely a result of the long time required to heat the extruder and bed to the desired temperature. Upon conclusion of this study, it is theorized that particles may be formed through vapor condensation and coagulation after being released into the surrounding environment.

With confirmation of FDM ultrafine particle emission at notable concentrations, an effort was consequently placed on diagnosing the primary cause of emission and energy consumption based on developed hypotheses. Experimental data suggests that particle emission is mainly the result of condensing and agglomerating semi-volatile organic compounds. The initial emission spike occurs when there is dripping of semi-liquid filament from the heated nozzle and/or residue left in the nozzle between prints; this supports the previously stated hypothesis regarding residence time. However, the study shows that while printing speed and material flow influence particle emission rate, the effects from these factors are relatively insignificant. Power profile analysis indicates that print bed heating and component temperature maintaining are the leading contributors to energy consumption for FDM printers, making time the primary variable driving energy input.

To better understand the severity of FDM emissions, further investigation is necessary to diligence the makeup of the process output flows. By collecting exhaust discharge from a Makerbot Replicator 2x printing ABS filament and diffusing it through a type 1 water solution, we are able to investigate the chemical makeup of these compounds. Additional exploration is done by performing a filament wash to investigate emissions that may already be present before extrusion. Using solid phase micro-extraction, contaminants are studied using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) thermal desorption. Characterization of the collected emission offers more comprehensive knowledge of the environmental and human health impacts of this AM process.

Classification of the environmental performance of various manufacturing technologies can be achieved by analyzing their input and output material, as well as energy flows. The unit process life cycle inventory (UPLCI) is a proficient approach to developing reusable models capable of calculating these flows. The UPLCI models can be connected to estimate the total material and energy consumption of, and emissions from, product manufacturing based on a process plan. The final chapter focuses on using the knowledge gained from this work in developing UPLCI model methodology for FDM, and applying it further to the second most widely used AM process: stereolithography (SLA). The model created for the FDM study considers material input/output flows from ABS plastic filament. Energy input/output flows come from the running printer, step motors, heated build plate, and heated extruder. SLA also fabricates parts layer by layer, but by the use of a photosensitive liquid resin which solidifies when cured under the exposure of ultraviolet light. Model material input/output flows are sourced from the photosensitive liquid resin, while energy input/output flows are generated from (i) the projector used as the ultraviolet light source and (ii) the step motors. As shown in this work, energy flow is mostly time dependent; material flows, on the other hand, rely more on the nature of the fabrication process. While a focus on FDM is asserted throughout this study, the developed UPLCI models show how conclusions drawn from this work can be applied to different forms of AM processes in future work.


Collaborative Research: Environmental Sustainability of Additive Manufacturing Processes: Bridging Geometry and Life Cycle Inventory

Directorate for Engineering

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Mechanical Engineering Department Teaching Assistant


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Fu Zhao

Additional Committee Member 2

John W. Sutherland

Additional Committee Member 3

John A. Howarter

Additional Committee Member 4

Rebecca E. Ciez