As 3D printers become more and more common, items produced via printing find their way into our homes. This raises a few safety concerns, especially when it comes to babies and young children.
3D printers aren’t toys. After all, they involve hot temperatures and molten plastic, which is something you want to keep away from a baby’s reach. But there are other risks involved as well. We all know babies just can’t help themselves and they have to touch and smell everything, and sometimes they’ll put things in their mouth too. This is why we’re going to take a look at certain safety aspects of 3D printing to give you an idea about what’s safe for babies.
Are 3D printers safe?
While many 3D printed items are safe for babies because it all depends on the type of material being used, there are other dangers to take into account first. But the most important rule is to keep babies and young kids away from the 3D printer. It’s not a toy and it should be treated just like any other power tool. You wouldn’t let a baby near a chainsaw, right? Pretend the 3D printer is a chainsaw.
Most dangers related to the 3D printer have to do with heat. The working motors heat up, the extruder can go over 250℃, the base plate can be heated up, and there’s hot molten plastic coming out. Any of these elements can cause serious burns.
Furthermore, printers can also produce toxic fumes depending on the type of material being used. For example, ABS and nylon are known for this issue, so make sure the room is well-ventilated and don’t allow babies in there to inhale those fumes. Above all, don’t leave them unsupervised.
Materials and 3D Printed Items
There are many types of thermoplastics used in 3D printing, as well as other materials like ceramics and metal. Some printers can even work with edible materials such as chocolate. While the edible materials come with a set of hygiene recommendations, the others can be dangerous either during the printing process or afterward.
Most 3D printing is done using PLA and ABS. Both are considered safe. PLA is an organic compound that doesn’t contain any toxic elements. It is also considered food safe, so babies that are fed using a 3D printed PLA spoon or bowl will be just fine. ABS is also a safe material and non-toxic in its solid form. After all, LEGO’s are made from this material. However, the situation changes when the plastic is heated.
During the printing process, the thermoplastic filament is melted. Generally, when plastics are heated they emit various particles that can be toxic, especially to young children. But again, not all plastics are equal. PLA for example is most safe and it doesn’t release a highly dangerous toxin. In fact, PLA is fine even when accidentally ingested. On the other hand, ABS is quite different. Despite being safe in its solid form, ABS becomes dangerous when melted. The filament contains various oils that release poisonous fumes and unlike PLA, it’s dangerous when ingested.
While some plastics are toxic when ingested or if you’re inhaling the fumes, you should also consider the 3D printed objects. Some printed items may seem harmless at first, but they can be dangerous for babies. Depending on the design, some of them might cut when handled inappropriately, others are small enough to be swallowed and they can be a choking hazard. Just think about all those small plastic toys that come with a choking hazard warning label or age requirements. The same rules should apply to 3D printed objects.
3D printed items should be avoided if they’re small enough to fit a baby’s mouth or nose. Babies are curious and they don’t know what they’re doing. As soon as you turn your back away you’ll find yourself at the hospital with a doctor removing a toy soldier from a baby’s throat.
That being said, if you make your own 3D prints, you should try to follow the same safety standards found in the industrial 3D printing industry. Many companies release datasheets for the plastic toys they print and you can learn from them. However, as long as you stick to non-toxic materials like PLA and ABS, and you prevent the aforementioned hazards, everything should be fine. 3D printed items are safe as long as you take every precaution.
In essence, 3D printed items are safe as long as the materials used to make them are safe and non-toxic. If the thermoplastic filament is rated “food safe”, then there’s not much to worry about. That’s one of the reasons why PLA is often recommended. In addition, we need to take into account any other general hazards, like the risk of choking. Some items are appropriate only for kids at certain ages and deemed dangerous for babies. The biggest dangers are small objects that can be swallowed or those with sharp edges that can harm the baby.
As long as non-toxic materials are used and common-sense precautions are taken, 3D printers and the products made with them should be safe.