Sonette du Preez is a Lecturer for Occupational Hygiene at North West University Potchefstroom Campus.

Sonette, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

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.”

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

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.

You are 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?

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.

What are some of the main health risks related to 3D Printing?

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.

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?

Definitely completing my PhD and knowing that the findings from my research will serve as a starting point for assisting AM facilities in implementing effective control measures necessary to prevent and eliminate or reduce AM operator exposure to potential hazards. I am also grateful to have had the privilege to meet and work with experts in the AM field who have been willing to share their knowledge with me.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?

In 2015 I submitted a piece of my work to Science Voices, which is a scientific platform (Mail & Guardian, South Africa) for non-academic readers. I had to get creative and really put some thought into making my research exciting to the general public; this was fun and during the submission I came up with the following question: “So what do a goose, a prosthesis and occupational hygiene have in common?” We had a good laugh about it, and people really enjoyed reading the article.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman researcher in 3D Printing?

The South African AM community is mostly male-dominated, however, I was fortunate enough to be welcomed at every AM facility I visited in South Africa. I also learned to trust my own voice and to not take “no” for an answer. The feedback that I mostly get is how glad people are that more women are becoming involved in 3D printing in one way or another.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

The development of custom made medical devices and implants to help improve the lives of people and even animals.

What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?

Extensive research on the development of new AM metal powders as well as the expansion of current metal AM powders is underway with the most interesting being the additive manufacturing of Platinum in South Africa.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As a researcher?

During my PhD studies, we were able to identify several future studies regarding AM and occupational hygiene, which gives myself as a researcher the opportunity to continue working in the field of AM and providing the industry with further information and guidance for optimal safe work practices.

  • As a woman?

Organizations such as Women in 3D printing that is growing and developing a worldwide network of different role players. This has made me proud to be part of it; I have been able to promote this initiative everywhere I go.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

There are so many exciting project developments and I really enjoy that AM has become such a multi-disciplinary application combining all facets of science including engineering, the biomedical field, chemistry, environmental sciences, occupational health and other related sciences. I would like to see the possibility of introducing AM in schools as 3D printing will play such a major role in the future and making it accessible for educators to use as a teaching tool in classrooms.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

Getting involved by attending 3D printing or AM conferences such as RAPDASA, Formnext and Inside 3D Printing (to name a few) which really attract a wide range of expertise. This gives women an opportunity to meet and reach out to each other and actively promote their work being done in AM including academia, designer/artists in AM, engineers and business professionals.

Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Titanium powder material.

Favorite moment in your day job? Having my first cup of coffee in the morning and planning my diary

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? I would love to attend a design course for AM (DfAM) and I wouldn’t mind owing my own metal AM machine such as an S-Titanium Pro machines from Aurora Labs.

Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Dr Alyson Johnson from NIOSH in the USA 

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