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3D Printing in Schools and Risk Management, Safety, etc.

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Hi, all!
I'm preparing a 3D printing webinar for a group of university risk managers and insurance folks. Can anyone share what their institution is doing in regards to student safety, environmental hazards, safe material handling, signage, training, policies, product liability, etc? I'm trying to collect as much information as I can, and the two most common responses that I've gotten are "I hope nobody brings that up" and "we haven't really thought about it"... Any advice or experience that you can share with me would be greatly appreciated!
Thank you!

So far, our institution (university) does not have a policy. I got a laser cutter (highest risk and smell), 3D printers and a large embroidery machine.

I would like to know more about potential risks from manufacturers. We routinely print over night in our university offices. I have been doing this over the last 7 years (starting with RapMan and now using a Felix Pro that has a certified PowerSupply). My colleagues have cheap Dagoma Delta printers. I sometimes wonder what could happen to me if I start a fire...

So yes, "I hope nobody brings that up" ....

My bigger concern is plastic fumes. ABS is bad and I don't use it except for "cleaning" the hot end. In principle, PLA is harmless, but I REALLY do not trust the paint inside, in particular the one that can be found in the more expensive "glossy" PLA. I really miss information there ! I don't know about others, e.g. Nylon or Ninja Flex or PET. They are supposed to be harmless. In any case, I would not recommend using any 3D printer in a classroom without some precaution, e.g. open the windows now and then and only use "cheap" PLA with little paint inside.

Concerning training students: We show them how the machines operate and after we got a feeling that they "got it" let them use these alone. The major concern is that they can break things. Burns from a hot end are not life threatening, i.e. I do not consider 3D printers to be very dangerous (except maybe some plastic fumes). They are not allowed to leave the laser cutter unsupervised.

The high school that I teach at currently only has 3d printers for the technology and engineering department, and basically has the 3d printers is classrooms that were re purposed shop labs, so good ventilation already present. Occasionally the printer is out for demonstration, but usually outside of regular student spaces and teachers or students that have shown significant knowledge about the printers get to operate them. When we do demonstrations and students get closer to running machines we relate the idea of 3d printers as hot glue guns controlled by robots, since many of them have used hot glue guns they understand the hot end should be avoided. On our printers, we do not have heated beds (as much as that may annoy me) but we print is PLA so usually no big issue with warping.

When I was finishing my degree a few years ago my college had several labs where the 3d printers were in hooded enclosures, duel purpose for air filtration/circulation and heated environments and run by trained lab assistants. However I also saw clubs and on campus makerspaces that set up policies of training required for anyone to use the machines, particularly for higher volume/better featured printers and policies of no operation of the machines without attendance (either the operator or on duty- lab techs) which ends up limiting the size of the prints but I know that while policy was not always enforced well. This was a couple years ago and while the extent of the policy was not formal or universal among labs and makerspaces, like 3d printing itself policy and procedures was evolving.

Thank you both for your detailed and well thought out answers!

Between the whitepapers and "site setup sheets" from commercial and industrial grade printers and the guidelines from places like the NSTA, OSHA, and others there's plenty of applicable information out there to be found. I agree that the recent findings from the UL on the VOCs and micro-particles is likely the elephant in the room, but it's also new enough that the human health and safety studies haven't yielded an official recommendation yet... So at this time I'll just have to refer to it as a 'developing' story that we should all watch. I've also added content from my own experience with resin printing and the chemicals, lasers, solvents, etc. that are involved with some of those processes...

If I use any of your content, you'll be appropriately credited, and if there's a recording of the session, I'll post it here.
Thank you again for contributing!


We deal with a lot of schools, libraries, and businesses, and they seem to have policies all over the place. We have some that literally will not allow the printer to be fully plugged in unless it is in a fume hood and fully enclosed and some that have no policies whatsover running fire hazard Chinese Prusa clones.

Some things to consider:
-Go with printers that have certifications for electrical safety. CE, UL, etc.

-If the printers aren't fully enclosed, then put an enclosure on it. We design and manufacture enclosures that we sell directly for Ultimaker, Lulzbot, and Robo3D and Lulzbot sells the enclosures for us. We see a large amount of sales of the Lulzbot enclosures. I believe that this is because these printers have heavy penetration into schools and businesses where the protection from pinch points and what not is more valued. printedsolid.com/enclosures if you want to check them out. You're welcome to use any of our pics for reference. If you have access to any of the printers we make enclosures for, I can probably get you a loaner.

-Filtration. This also goes back to point 1. There are a lot of filtration options, but when you're talking to risk management and insurance types, the certifications probably matter more than the technical details. Bofa is selling filters for 3D Printers that come with the certification that your paper work types want.

-An additional point to consider: Just because nobody has brought it up yet, doesn't mean that nobody ever will. We had a school that we deal with regularly that only ran PLA on printers with unheated beds. They had been doing this for several years with no issues and no complaints. Then a parent read one of the UFP articles and flipped out. The school was sent into a bit of a tailspin and had to shut down all their printers for a while to deal with it while we scrambled to design them custom enclosures.

Hope that helps.

I agree here, and something i had not considered is that public schools (highschool/middleschool) would be an entirely different ball game then college level schools, and also I do agree if you are looking for guidelines on what kind of printer, the more commercial "Ready-to-go" with every certification known to man , while sometimes costing more , are a "safer" bet for legal, policy, angry-parents, etc; furthermore, those tend to be the kind with more limitation placed upon them, which i detailed in my other comment, if a machine does not allow for say ABS to be run through it and has temp caps to prevent such then if an angry parent complains about ABS fumes , you 've already covered yourself because you physically cannot run ABS as an example.

My university (engineering college) has essentially two situations involving 3d printers

The first are the official ones in our metrology lab, they are overseen by a teacher who teaches a few classes involving them, and are generally operated by students employed by the school, they are able to be "used" by students in the sense that students can pay to purchase prints from them but the students who are not "cleared" (the students who run the lab for/with the teacher) or who are actually in the class/lab do not touch them, the machines are quite expensive and I am mostly sure this practice is a liability in the fact that in-experienced students are in fact, morons when it comes to using equipment they have not used before and i would imagine if it was open to the student body the machines would not last a month. As far as safety is concerned, the lab is fully equipped with eye-wash station ( the printers have soluble support material that requires a bath in some sort of acid/base, not extremely strong but still not healthy to touch) and pretty much nothing special, its all general lab-requirement stuff, The machines are enclosed (big stratasys units) so the abs fumes arent a concern, and the lab is already setup to be safe for heated equipment (nothing flammable kept on/around machine).

The second scenario involving 3d printers is literally every other 3d printer on campus

They have absolutely zero policy on them at all.


And honestly, its not much of a problem, several clubs have them in their club room/some space operated by the club (one club has there's in essentially a storage room that was mostly unoccupied that they were granted access to use), there's a lab or two that have one set off in a corner that some students are allowed to use if they talk to the teacher who owns/operates it, and most notably theirs students who keep them in their campus housing (apartments/dorms/etc).

So that's what the university has in place in terms of policy in place but to answer the points you brought up as far as what I would say :

Student safety, if its in a classroom/lab/university run building, honestly a warning label and waiver is 100% enough, I took a machining and welding course a couple semesters ago and that is all we needed (besides lectures about the numerous ways to kill yourself and how to prevent doing so) , the only "dangerous" parts are the hotends and MAYBE the bed ( if you can even get a bed hot enough to injure somebody), yes the extruder CAN get well hot enough to burn somebody about as as soldering iron, however its not hard to avoid , a lot of higher grade machines dont run if the enclosure is open (reducing "bump" factor as the extruder wont be moving) , and really its less dangerous then any class involving any tools whether it be a mill, a drill, a soldering iron, a welder, a stove, a blender, etc.
Now for printers NOT in a classroom/lab/university run building, i would say about the same, clubs usually have waivers for other tool usage and if its not liable to the school then there shouldn't be any more of an issue

Environmental hazards: this one has somewhat more gravity to it in the fact that some plastics, most notably ABS, create fumes, and in non-ventilated spaces , could pose "some" level of risk, do I know how much risk? Not one bit, its worth researching how much fumes it puts off and how much that will affect you , those labs/classes that use soldering irons I mentioned earlier have small ventilation duct systems that are on position-able arms mounted from the ceiling and those are sufficient for the soldering fumes, I COULD see a requirement for machines intending to run fume creating plastics that do not have an enclosure with some form of ventilation/filtration system built-in to be required to have some kind ventilation system added to the room/machine to be perfectly fair.
And again that responsibility should be directed to the club or individual for printers in non university liable rooms/situations.

Safe material handling: There isn't much to say for this one, there's not much material handling at all and even then there's not much risk involved, the only thing I can think of is the acid baths for the soluble support material and that one is just restricted to selected individuals only like I explained earlier.

Signage: Some "Warning Hot Surface" labels are really all that would be something that I would consider necessary , its not a dangerous machine other then the hotend which is just simply hot, and even then its less dangerous then an electric stove top/hot plate/etc

Training: This is a bigger one for machine the school is liable for and thats really just because they are expensive and breakable, not so much for personal safety but the machine's safety/longevity I would say this is pretty important.

Policies/Product Liability: As mentioned a few times, the machines that the school is liable for and would "matter" if they are damaged are simply restricted to individuals who have been trained, that pretty much suffice's at my school, the machines that are owned by clubs and individuals , well if it breaks it comes out of their pocket/budget.

To sum up, 3d printers do not need much in terms of policy/regulation other then to protect the machine from people who do not know what they are doing.

Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions!

Oh something else I thought of, I woudl say the biggest "risk" woudl be that lower end machines have more control over things like hotend temp, now thats great for tweaking purposes but if you have the cheaper PTFE line hot-end "throat" (the tube portion that the filament goes through in the hot-end) then setting the temperature too high (such as the upper temps for ABS) can cause it to "decompose" and there is a risk of it catching fire

the three solutions to that are: training,hardware,software

You can train people to know not to break the machine. You can get all-metal hot-end components. Or you can get machines that limit the amount of control over specific software settings, those are more the "pull it out of the box, hit print and you're good" type of machines, which are coincidentally the more common one's in university official labs/classes.