OSHA has cited 3-D printing firm Powderpart Inc. for one willful violation and nine serious violations after an inspection triggered by a Nov. 5, 2013, explosion and fire. The company faces $64,400 in proposed fines.

The November 2013 incident at Powderpart’s Woburn, Mass., facility inflicted third-degree burns on a company employee.

OSHA said it found that the company failed to prevent and protect its workforce from the fire and explosion hazards of reactive, combustible metal powders such as titanium and aluminum alloys, which are used in the company's 3-D printing process.

"The fire and explosion hazards when working with titanium and aluminum are established, particularly when the materials are in powder form," said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. "Just as it's easier to start a campfire with kindling than with logs, it's easier for a metal fire to start when you're working with metal powder that is as fine as confectioner's sugar."

Powderpart allegedly failed to eliminate known sources of potential ignition and follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers, and did not alert the Woburn Fire Department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials, according to OSHA.

The company also located an employee workstation and flammable powders next to an area with explosion potential, according to the agency.

Other serious hazards that OSHA found included:

  • The use of unapproved electrical equipment.
  • Electrical equipment and wiring that were unsuitable for a hazardous location.
  • Failure to train employees on chemical hazards and safeguards.
  • Failure to supply employees with all necessary protective clothing, equipment and training.
  • No written respiratory protection program.
  • Failure to post danger tags in potentially explosive areas.

"Establishments that use metal powders in this new technology need to scrutinize their processes and take steps to prevent and protect their employees from fire and explosion hazards that arise with these materials," said Robert Hooper, OSHA's acting regional administrator for New England. "The market for 3-D printed parts made from titanium and aluminum alloys includes the automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, dental and jewelry industries. Basic safety measures must be incorporated into this 21st century technology, so that it can grow without harming the employees who are building this new industry."

OSHA cited Powderpart for one willful violation carrying a $14,000 penalty for the firm’s alleged failure to have any Class D metal fire extinguishers.

OSHA said found that Powderpart knew that titanium and aluminum fires cannot be extinguished with a regular fire extinguisher or with water, and knew that its manufacturing process presented potential fire hazards. However, there were no Class D metal fire extinguishers on site during the explosion and fire, according to the agency.  

Powderpart has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply or contest OSHA’s findings.