3D printing is a revolutionary way for artists, designers, and even doctors to create tools and special products. Fortunately, 3D printers don’t just come in an industrial form.
They now come in hobby sized options. However, anyone thinking of getting into 3D printing should be aware of the safety risks involved before buying one for their home or work environment.
Is 3D printing safe? 3D printing can be relatively safe. However, there are a variety of different safety risks involved. These safety risks vary depending on the type of 3D printer (filament versus resin) and range from burn risks, electrical shock injury, and risk of coming in contact with toxic materials.
Don’t let that scare you away though! Once you’re aware of a few safety precautions, you’ll be on your way and printing 3D pieces projects in no time.
FDN printers (Fused Deposition Modeling printers) – they work by melting filament, often plastic, layer by layer.
This is done through the ‘hot end’ of the FDN printer. When they say hot, they mean hot. They run roughly between 350 degrees Fahrenheit (120 Celsius) to 575 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius). These temperatures are hot enough to burn on contact.
Many FDN 3D printers also contain a ‘heat bed,’ which likewise runs at around 215 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius.) Also capable of causing burns from accidental direct contact.
Ways to Minimize Burn Risks
- Teach Yourself to Not Touch the Hot Things – The most obvious and effective way to minimize burn risks when operating one of these filament printers is to teach yourself the heat-components to avoid.
- Supervise – The presence of these hot surfaces within the 3D printer can pose a threat to you, your family members, or pets. It’s vital to observe caution when operating a 3D printer and to make sure children and pets do not have unsupervised access to one.
- Physical Barriers – if your 3D printer is anywhere near children, like in a school environment, it is highly advisable to put a physical barrier around the printer so that tiny little curious fingers don’t accidentally find their way to scalding hot surfaces. Many filament printers do come with enclosures. For those that don’t, it’s easy enough to create your own.
3D printers often require the use of scraper blade tools to assist you in the removal of your 3D printed object. These tools are incredibly sharp. All it takes to plunge the scraper blade into your hands is putting it on the other side of the scraper blade and accidentally releasing it with too much force.
The razor-sharp scraper can slip or move suddenly at any point, especially with stubborn prints. The range of injuries varies from a slight nick, needing no more than a band-aid, to a bone-deep gash that requires a visit to the ER and multiple stitches.
Ways to Minimize Scraper Blade Injury
- Invest in Removable Print Surfaces – the absolute best way to avoid this type of injury is to not use the scraper blade at all. To do this, you’d need to invest in some removable print surfaces. They work well, and they eliminate the need for the scraper blade tool entirely.
- Scrape Away from your Self – Never scrape the blade toward any part of your body. Always scrape away from yourself to avoid injury.
- Wear Gloves – if you don’t trust yourself or your momentum while using this tool, invest in some gardening or work gloves to further minimize the likelihood of slicing one’s hand open.
Pinch Point Injuries
3D printers operate on an open-loop system. The control codes tell the printer where to move via code, and the printer stays on this loop. While some 3D printers do have the ability to stop their loop when they encounter an object or there’s an obstruction in their printing path, many do not.
Because of this, if a finger accidentally found its way in the path of a 3D printer which does not stop for any reason unless told so digitally, the result can be some painfully pinched or crunched phalanges.
Want to know the exact damage that can occur to your fingers if pinched in a printer? Just hold a hot dog in the way of a 3D printer and see what result of the pinched hot dog. It’s not pretty.
Ways to Minimize Pinch Point Injuries
- Common Sense – The first way to avoid pinch point injuries is to not insert your finger in the 3D printer’s path.
- Enclosures – If it’s kids and pets you’re concerned about–since commonsense rules seem not to apply to them–you’ll want to use the enclosure your 3D printer comes with, or build one.
- Get 3D Printers with Closed Loop Systems – a 3D printer with a closed-loop system will stop when it encounters an object in its path. Therefore, the risk of getting pinched goes down tremendously.
Faulty ground connections have been found to cause a strong voltage that is able to run throughout the entire machine, causing an intense tingly sensation throughout your body.
This occurs when the filtering capacitors in the power supply of a 3D printer are not able to send the voltage to ground (so the volts look for another place to go.)
Ways to Minimize Electric Shock
- Ground the 3D Printer – if you can ground the printer, always ground your 3D printer.
- Consult an Electrician – When in doubt, consult a professional. Contact a local electrician to see what you need to ground and safely secure your 3D printer to avoid painful and dangerous electric shocks.
Risk of Fire
There have been some reports of hobby-sized 3D printers, after having been in use for hours, catching on fire.
Ways to Minimize Fire Injury & Damages
- Thermal Runaway Prevention Technology – make sure your 3D printer is equipped with thermal runaway & temperature drop technology, which will short-circuit the system if it becomes too hot or at risk of starting a fire. To check and see if your current 3D printer has this technology, watch this video below for a step-by-step.
I’ve share my experiences with resin printing in great detail before. I love the detail and complexity you’re able to achieve with resin.
DLP or SLA technologies have become affordable and accessible. They are quite different from FDM printers, however.
3D printer systems use UV cured resins, which are toxic materials. Resin printers do come with a whole suite of safety features around them so that your skin never meets it. Once the resin is cured (dried and printed) it’s totally safe, but until then, it is toxic.
Ways to Minimize Toxic Injury
- Wear Gloves – you must always wear gloves (these work great) when operating a resin 3D printer to ensure your skin never accidentally makes contact with the uncured resin. Do not re-use gloves. You must use new gloves every time you touch uncured resin.
- Place Disposable Cooking Sheet Beneath Printer – in the event something goes wrong, and the uncured resin spills everywhere, you want it contained and easy to dispose of. Most importantly, you don’t want it present on any random surface where you might not see it and later touch it.
- Wear Safety Goggles – in case any resin splashes, you don’t want toxic liquids coming in contact with your eyes.
- UV Cure Any Uncured Resin Pieces – when you clean out the uncured resin parts inside the 3D printer, you must cure the resin by applying UV. To do this, you can set the part out in the sun or under a UV nail dryer (if you have one.)
|Safety is a big deal when it comes to working with resin.
I cover everything you need to know about resin printing in this article.
The Key Take Away?
3D printing is not without safety risks. There certainly are dangers involved, and if one is not properly familiar with these risks, severe injury could occur. However, when operating a 3D printer with the right amount of caution, 3D printing can be perfectly safe.
It is also now far more affordable, accessible and practical to own your own 3D printer, depending on your given field. Don’t let the safety risks keep you from creating with these incredibly inventive machines.