3D printing has become increasingly popular over the last few years, with a growth of 30% in worldwide shipments for 3D printers in 2015, compared to the previous year.
Designing, prototyping, and manufacturing new components and devices has become more simplified using 3D printing technology, and the application areas of it are constantly expanding.
Implants, weapons, clothing and food are just some of the things that have been successfully printed, and at Analox we used one to print soldering jigs.
The use of 3D printing has even made its way into the film industry. In the James Bond movie Skyfall, an Aston Martin DB 5 was involved in a chase scene and blown up at the end. Obviously you can’t just blow up a priceless car for a film, so three replicas of it were 3D printed to a third of the original size, and one of them was blown up instead.
In the future, there are also plans to 3D print muscles, bones and organs for surgical implantation into humans.
Depending on the source material, the process of 3D printing can differ. For plastics, an additive process is carried out, in which objects are constructed layer by layer or fused together cross section by cross section.
For metal such as titanium, a technique called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) takes place inside a chamber which has been filled with an inert gas such as argon to deplete the oxygen (O2) level to 500ppm or less.
In this process, a laser follows a computer-aided design (CAD) file to melt titanium powder together and create a solid structure.
Why is argon used in 3D printing?
Argon (Ar) is a relatively inexpensive gas which helps create an inert environment suitable for 3D printing. It provides several benefits including reducing oxidation of sintered parts, preventing corrosion and keeping out impurities, reducing the fire hazard by making combustible dust inert, creating a stable printing environment by maintaining constant pressure, reducing powder clumping and controlling thermal stress to maintain consistency and prevent part deformities.
What are the risks of 3D Printing?
Argon is a colourless, odourless, tasteless and non-toxic gas, which makes up 0.9% of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Argon is harmless when it is contained, however it does not support human breathing, so if there is a leak of it in the atmosphere, it can displace oxygen in the air.
Oxygen makes up 21% of the atmosphere, and a small decrease of this gas can cause symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath and confusion.
Further drops to 12-15% will lead to poor judgement, faulty coordination, and emotional upset, while an oxygen level of less than 10% can cause immediate fainting, an inability to move, loss of consciousness and death.
How to reduce the risks
If you use argon gas in your 3D printer you need to consider an oxygen depletion detector.
Analox offer a range of fixed and portable oxygen gas detectors, including the O2NE+, an oxygen depletion monitor designed to detect the presence of low oxygen in ambient air.
It provides two audio/visual alarms which are pre-set at 19.5% and 18% to warn of a potential leak which may cause the oxygen levels to deplete to a dangerous level.
However it can be adjusted to trigger an alarm at a different level of oxygen concentration to suit your requirements.
Author: Araminta Hartley
Founded in 1981, Analox Sensor Technology provides niche and custom gas detection solutions to industries including beverage and fast food, commercial diving and laboratories. Analox has over 325 years of collective, specialist electronics and software engineering expertise, as well as a worldwide distributor network. Contact us to see how we can provide expert gas monitoring solutions and help you achieve your goals.