Thanks to technological advancement, desktop 3D printers are now cheap and readily available. These machines that were initially designed for prototyping in industries are now an everyday tool in our places of work, homes, and schools.
But how safe are they? Most users might not be aware of the health and safety implications that a 3D printer could have.
3D Printers are Not That Safe
3D printers need to be used in a safe environment by individuals who are well versed with the safety precautions.
As much as you should jump aboard the trend and start enjoying the conveniences of 3D printing, you also need to implement a safety plan. 3D printing safety risks is not a matter to be swept under the rug.
What makes 3D Printers Safe?
When purchasing a 3D printer, please ensure that its power supply is standardized according to the CE mark regulations.
The printer should have safeguards against overheating, short-circuiting, overload, overvoltage. Other safety features your 3D printer should have included:
Emission exposure will be minimal with smoke sensors.
Even though adequate ventilation is essential and experts recommend using one 3D printer in a standard office space or classroom space, smoke sensors in the 3D printer can turn the machine off when the emission levels get critically high. They help to make 3D printers safe.
Spill control equipment
The safest 3D printers come with spill control equipment to help you stay safe during the printing process. The control equipment will also prevent accidents caused by hazardous chemicals when dissolving support materials.
The chemical bath often contains sodium hydroxide which is a dangerous chemical. Safe 3D printing involves proper handling and disposal of this chemical after dissolving the support materials.
Safety signs and warnings
A 3D printer’s safety can be enhanced with safety signs and labels. These can be used to caution about emissions and direct users about ways of improving indoor air quality when printing.
In schools or at work, there should be a proper indication about where to find eyewash stations or fire extinguishers when working with 3D printers.
Closed printing chamber
When shopping for a 3D printer, it would help to choose ones that have a closed printing chamber. 3D printers do have moving parts and motors that can cause injury when accidentally touched. Closed moving parts help to make 3d printers safe.
Are 3D Printers Safe for Kids?
3D printers that check right on the earlier described safety features might be safe for kids. Nevertheless, there are plenty of risks to take into account.
As a parent or teacher, you will have to weigh many factors when getting 3D printers for the child. Some of the ways to ensure the child is safe when using a 3D printer include:
Ideally, you should never let a child work on 3Dprinter alone. They need a parent or teacher supervision to stay safe from dangers associated with the machines.
There is the risk of burns when they touch the heated nozzles. The extruder temperature can get to around 250 degrees Celsius, and that can result in nasty burns. It is also imperative that papers and other combustibles be kept far away from the printer to minimize the risk of fires.
The children can even sustain severe injuries when they stick their fingers into the moving parts. These are the reasons why an adult needs to be always around.
Before ushering your child into the wonderful world of three-dimensional printing, it would be best to first educate them. As much as they need to be abreast with such life-changing tech, they also need to stay safe. For that matter, 3D printing education should be included in the curriculum to help make 3d printing safe for kids.
Select the right materials for them
There is no justification why your child should handle or print with filament materials such as ABS or PLA. These materials emit hazardous fumes that will impair your child’s health.
For their toy printing or school art project, you can find them a printer that uses clay or plasticine extruders.
Get a dedicated kid’s 3D printer
It would be a bad decision to let your child work on the same 3D printer you use for your projects. There are special kids 3D printers in the market.
Kids 3D printers are made to extrude filament at lower temperatures than standard printers. They also have enclosed casings and feature beginner-level software that is easier to handle for kids.
Safe 3D Printing Materials
3D printers use many materials including thermoplastic filaments and powdered metals among others. In the FDM printing process, the material is heated through a nozzle to become molten for layering and later solidification.
The heating process often releases fumes, which can be hazardous when it comes to materials like ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). PLA (Polylactic Acid) filament materials also release fumes, but in this case, they are non-toxic
So now that you have ruled out ABS, which are the safest printing materials to use? Below is a list of safe 3D printing materials. Many of these have been approved for food conduct by the FDA:
- PLA without additives
- ULTEM 9085
- PET, PETG / T-Glass
Safe 3D Printing Projects
The safety of the final 3D printed object should also be of primary concern. Even after getting the most reliable printer and taking utmost caution during the printing process, if the final print is unsafe, then it defeats the whole point of 3D printer safety.
With kids, you will have to be wary of risks such as cutting, chocking or pinching posed by the printed objects. There is no telling what sorts of designs the child might stumble upon.
Some 3D printing projects could result in prints that compromise the safety of the child. If the child is the kind that stuffs things in their mouth, for instance, the object could result in choking or suffocation.
Additionally, 3D printing projects made with unsafe materials might contain toxic residues. Not all 3D printed objects meet the safety standards of toys. Adult supervision is necessary to make 3d printing safe for kids.
Nevertheless, you will have to allow your children to experiment with their creative freedoms. That is the purpose of 3D printing. Even if the project is not what you like, you will need to let them learn. With your constant supervision, everything should go well. Herein are 3D printing projects you can allow your child to start with:
Safe 3D Printing Projects for Kids
- Cereal box house
- Finger digger
- Shoe ties
- Toy train
- Spinning top
There are also safety concerns with 3D printed functional parts at home. For instance, you cannot print furniture parts with PLA- the material is not that resilient and might break under pressure.
This material is also highly prone to deformation under extreme heat. Using nylon, on the other hand, will result in sturdy furniture parts.
Also, when printing cutlery and kitchen utensils, you will have to ask yourself whether the 3D printed parts are safe for contact with food and drinks.
3D printing involves a mix of chemicals heating to form the final print. You run a risk of poisoning if you use 3D printed utensils made from materials other the ones earlier listed in the safe food category.
To be safe, here is a list of 3D printing projects you can start with as you familiarize yourself with the safety of the process, materials, and parts:
Safe 3D Printing Projects for Beginners
- Earbud casing
- Phone casing
- Key holder
- Headphone stand
- Pencil holder
- Cable holder
- USB holder
- Bottle opener
On an industrial scale, the safety of 3D printed parts and assemblies is also questionable in some instances. The change from using 3D printers for prototyping to using them for end-use products has thrown industry regulators into uncharted waters.
There are concerns about the consistency and safety of the 3D printed parts and caution is needed when dealing with materials such as:
Polyvinyl alcohol is highly soluble in water, and therefore all functional components made with is material will lose their structure when in contact with moisture.
Wood Fiber plus PLA
This 3D printing material will lead to design inaccuracies of the 3D printed part. It is unreliable and therefore unsafe.
PLA 3D prints are prone to deformation under extreme heat.
The 3D prints are susceptible to wear and tear.
Stay Away from Kickstarter 3D Printers
Kickstarter 3D printers are a hoax. Don’t buy anything from Kickstarter. Unless you are okay with throwing your money away with hopes that you get a state of the art 3D printer, don’t do it. Their marketing messages are a gimmick.
What they advertise as high tech 3D printers are kits. They are 3D printed parts that will require you to assemble them. These printers are prototypes and therefore not the real deal.
They are unsafe because they are untested and thus you will be turning yourself into a guinea pig when you elect to use Kickstarter printers.
The other problem is that you might have to wait for a year before the printer you ordered gets to you. No one has the patience for that. Kickstarter printers are a complete mess, and everyone who got them in the first place has moved on to other brands.
As 3D printing becomes the norm, there are numerous safety issues to contend with at the industrial and domestic levels. Eventually, we all have to weigh the good versus the bad and find ways to minimize safety risks when using 3D printers at work, home or school.