Are 3D Printers safe?
Is 3D Printing safe? Unfortunately that question does not have an easy yes/no answer. In this article we’ll look at several aspects of the safety of 3D printing including the safety of the hardware, the materials used and the 3D printed objects.
What makes a 3D printer safe?
There are a few things you should keep in mind when researching whether a 3D printer is safe or not.
- Electrical safety
- Mechanical safety
- Risk of burns
When you buy a 3D printer, check if the power supply meets all CE mark regulations and is protected against short-circuit, overload, over voltage and over temperature.
A nice feature could be that the hotend of the printer contains thermal runaway protection. By using a thermal fuse mounting in the heat sink to monitor temps and kill all power to the heater in the event of any over temp condition.
Last thing which is pretty rare but nice: a smoke sensor that’s separately powered from the machine and which kills all power to the heater when smoke is detected.
3D printers contain many moving parts. Fortunately, industry-wide most used NEMA-17 stepper motors do not have enough power to cause serious injuries. Though, in search for a safe 3D printer, please keep in mind that moving gears that are not covered can still form a potential risk. So you might want to limit your search to 3D printers that have a ‘closed print chamber’ design.
Risk of burns
There is a potential risk of burns, as the print head of most 3D printers can reach temperatures of up to 500 °F / 260 °C and the heated bed (not always included) goes up to 212 °F / 100 °C. Again a fully enclosed print chamber is what you are looking for, especially when it has a ‘auto turn off feature’ when the door is opened.
Safety & 3D Printing Materials
So now that you have bought a 3D printer that seems safe, the actual printing can result in all kinds of new risks. What materials are safe to use?
ABS once was the most popular 3D printing material. Engineers love it for its strength and designers like it cause it’s easily polishable with acetone.
Its popularity has eventually decreased a bit due to studies that have shown that the fumes that are released are possibly carcinogenic.
But are there no other options? Yes there are plenty. You could for instance use PLA. PLA is a bioplastic and is considered to be relatively safe.
But please keep in mind that most PLA that’s sold as 3D printer filament isn’t raw, untreated bioplastic. In order to make PLA printable and visually pleasing all kinds of chemicals are added. So you might want to look out for a 3D printer with an air filter.
Safety of 3D Printed Objects
So is the object you’ve printed safe? Again there’s no simple yes/no answer cause it really depends on the application. Is it a functional print? For instance a connector to connect wooden parts of furniture? Then it’s best to print it with a super strong and resilient material with a bit of flexibility like nylon. If you’ed make the wrong decision to print a functional connector with a stiff and brittle material like PLA, someone might get hurt.
Is the object used as cutlery? If yes, then you’ll want to post-process your object with a food-safe glaze, even on a single-use / disposable basis.
Re-using the object is not a good idea due to all the micropores and crevices that your 3D printed object will have. Besides that – the little bits of food which will sit inside of your object will provide food and shelter to bacteria and mold.
But even if your 3D printing material is certified food-safe plastic, your nozzle is going to contain all kinds of leftovers from every other filament you’ve ever printed with.
On a higher level – industries such as aerospace and automotive are turning to 3D printing as a replacement for traditional manufacturing. The change from utilizing 3D Printing as a prototyping tool to it being used as an end product has got federal regulators tapping the brakes. Concerns about the safety and consistency of 3D printed components means developing new testing mechanisms to prove their safety and efficiency.