Sonette du Preez is a Lecturer for Occupational Hygiene at North West University Potchefstroom Campus.
Nora Toure: Sonette, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
Sonette Du Preez: I completed my Master’s degree in Occupational Hygiene at the North-West University in South Africa and after working in the industry, I realized the potential for teaching and research in occupational exposure. Therefore, I decided to pursue an academic career in Occupational Hygiene. In 2014, I started researching potential topics for a Doctoral thesis in Occupational Hygiene and got into contact with Prof Deon de Beer [from the Additive Manufacturing (AM) industry] and Prof Johan du Plessis (occupational hygiene scientist).
At the time the South African metal AM industry had seen exponential growth and there was a need for further investigation of potential health effects associated with metal powder based AM processes. After a lot of planning, meetings and facility visits we turned what started as an idea into a PhD project, titled “Emission of and exposure to hazardous chemical substances from selected additive manufacturing technologies.”
Nora Toure: What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
Sonette Du Preez: While researching potential topics for my PhD, I visited the Vaal University of Technology Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park in 2014 and this was the first time I saw the technology in action. I was amazed at what could be created with the small Fused Deposition Modeling (FDMTM) printers and larger Powder Bed Fusion machines.
Nora Toure: You are a researcher and lecturer in the field of Occupational Hygiene and are mainly focused on identifying the health risks associated with Additive Manufacturing. Can you tell us a bit more about this area of research?
Sonette Du Preez: Numerous studies have investigated the emissions from smaller desktop FDMTM printers using ABS and PLA filaments. However, limited information is available on emission and exposure for other AM process categories especially emissions from and AM operator exposure to larger industrial AM machines using metal powders.
The general aim of my PhD thesis was to assess the emissions of an occupational exposure to hazardous chemical substances associated with metal powder based AM process categories at South African institutions utilizing AM. The findings of my study serve as a starting point to create awareness of AM operator exposure associated with metal AM and to assist industrial AM facilities in identifying hazards.
Nora Toure: What are some of the main health risks related to 3D Printing?
Sonette Du Preez: AM machines are designed to operate unattended, however, all powder handling is performed manually by the AM operator during the pre-processing and post-processing phases. Also, even though the processing phase is enclosed, the AM operator may intermittently inspect the progress of the build during which metal dust may be emitted.
During my research, I found that the particle size and chemical composition of AM powders are of importance when considering the respiratory health of AM operators due to Safety Data Sheets that contained inadequate information. Concentrations of particles ≤ 1 μm were quantified, which likely consist of metals and may be harmful to AM operators’ respiratory health.
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