Learning Lessons of Fume Extraction in Education

Fume and dust extraction systems have long been a key essential in schools, colleges and universities…but perhaps now it’s time to step back to make sure that the needs of students are keeping pace with the evolution of technology.

For years, investment in filtration units, such as those developed by BOFA, has helped education leaders manage the potential risks resulting from the particles and fume emitted by industrial processes used in the classroom and in specialist ‘Fab Labs’, including soldering and, notably, lasering.

Lasers are certainly commonplace because of their wide range of applications and the value they create in helping young people acquire manufacturing skills centred on cutting and engraving.

Meeting the needs of STEM & STEAM

Now, though, there’s a new kid in the classroom – 3D printers – and they’re becoming a ‘must-have’ tool not just for those studying traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects, but also for more creative subjects. ‘STEAM’ adds ‘Arts’ to STEM and it does so in recognition of how arts can encourage students to think critically, innovate, and use engineering or technology imaginatively in design or solve real-world problems.

So, what’s the issue?

Well, while the need for fume extraction in education settings for, say, lasering is widely understood, it’s fair to say that not all subject leaders are aware of the emissions that result from additive manufacturing. This is not so surprising, given that the evolution of the technology – and its price point – means that 3D printers are increasingly available for mainstream schools and colleges, and not just in specialist engineering settings.

And when we overlay exciting innovations in new generation functional materials with compositions tailored to certain products and processes, there’s a lot of new learning needed about additive manufacturing processes. In short, we need to maintain a clean working environment to help safeguard students.

Getting to grips with emissions

The mix of emissions – gases and particles – will vary according to the 3D print process and the materials being worked. For example, in stereolithography, the majority of fumes emitted are gas, but in the case of filament printing, both gas and particles, some of which will be ultra-fine, need to be filtered.

Emissions regulation in this space varies around the world, but just as filtration became a fixture for lasering, it’s important that appropriate extraction systems are in place to mitigate risk for our young people and also to keep the print chamber free from dust to avoid damaging the print head and impacting output quality.

The good news is that help is at hand. At BOFA, for example, we work closely with 3D printer manufacturers and have our own scientific laboratories to analyse emissions and specify an appropriate filtration solution for classrooms. As a result, we have developed portable systems tailored for additive manufacturing environments that filter emissions and return clean air into the working environment.

This is great for flexibility (they can be moved around) and they also remove the temptation to ‘vent-to-air’, which ‘exports’ emissions via ducting into the wider school or college environment.

As Larry Granec, National Account Manager for BOFA US explains: “Just because it doesn’t smell bad, doesn’t mean it’s OK to breathe in!

“This technology provides fantastic learning opportunities in classrooms and ‘Fab Labs’ for young people, but as with any industrial process being used in education – whether that’s soldering for electronics, lasering for cutting, robotic welding or 3D printing for manufacturing and creative arts – we need to make sure that the appropriate extraction systems are also in place.

“It’s important our educators and authorities have access to the scientific information and safety data sheets that can inform the decisions they take when buying and then operating 3D printing systems.”

Maintaining a clean working environment

BOFA 3D print extraction technology is purpose designed to filter the VOC gases, particles and nanoparticles which have the potential to be harmful to human health. These can be invisible to the human eye but they still need to be controlled. In addition, research undertaken by BOFA shows that the higher the processing temperatures required by the material’s properties, the greater the likelihood for both off-gassing, and increased particulate.

This is why BOFA’s in-house scientific expertise is increasingly important in designing the multi-stage filtration architecture that will help filter any resultant gases, particles or fume.

As an example, BOFA’s 3D PrintPRO 4 now includes more advanced multi-stage gas filtration, including a deeper carbon bed to filter a greater volume of fume. This helps extend filter life and helps create safer, odourless print operations. The redesign also includes a larger HEPA filter, enabling multiple 3D printers to be hooked up to a single unit which, in the case of schools, colleges and universities, could be highly beneficial.

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