Watching 3D printers bringing your project to life is exciting! But after a while, you start printing models that require 12 hours or more, and you probably don’t want to spend your entire day babysitting your printer. So, you started thinking about whether it’s a good idea to just leave the printer overnight or over the weekend at the office when there’s nobody there. Unfortunately, the short answer is: no, you shouldn’t leave your printer unattended in the middle of a project because of safety issues.
That may sound unreasonable, but the printer can be a fire hazard and you don’t want to risk returning to a burnt down home or office. Therefore, if you can help it, you should never leave the printer unsupervised. However, there are some precautions and measures you can take to reduce that risk. Let’s face it, in reality, we can’t be 100% of the time overseeing the printer, especially when some models require half a day or an entire weekend to be printed. A lot of people end up leaving the printer unattended for a few minutes or even hours. It’s all a question of safety and taking the right measures to make sure you don’t lose your home.
With that in mind, we’re going to explore what can go wrong when you leave a 3D printer unsupervised and what you can do to prevent anything bad from happening while you’re not around.
Things Can Go Wrong
It’s normal to be tempted to leave your printer running while you’re going to sleep for around 8 hours or while you’re away from home. However, a lot of things can happen while you're away and the final result might not be the cool print you were working on. Because we’re working with heating elements, electricity, and sometimes we apply various DIY technologies and methods to our setup, the risk of fire is always there.
Good decisions related to 3D printing come with experience. For example, knowing your schedule, you might prepare a short-period print instead of one that requires an entire day. This way, you’ll always be around. Remember that the longer a printer operates, the higher the risk of something going wrong. On a side note, even common house appliances come with a warning saying not to leave them unsupervised and most of them aren’t as complex as a 3D printer and they don’t operate nearly as long.
On the bright side, 3D printers rarely fail disastrously. In most cases, you come back to find a terrible print and you start over. But you still have to think that you’re working with a device that involves a burning hot extruder, a hot print bed, electrical motors, cooling fans, and it’s all drawing electricity for hours and hours without a break. Besides, when it comes to 3D printers there are so many things that we have to set up and customize ourselves, while appliances just work as intended at the push of a button.
That being said, in the cases where a 3D printer started a fire, it was due to electrical/wiring issues. Wires heat up, especially when they aren’t made to power something like a 3D printer for 12 hours, and printing enthusiasts rarely know where to look for any bad signs. Electric fires can quickly spread even if they start from a plain connector that can no longer deal with the electricity that goes through it. So, if you absolutely want to leave your 3D printer running overnight, you should be sure about your printer’s wiring. You’re especially responsible for the electrical safety standards if your printer is built using a kit.
Before taking any other measures, you need to determine that your printer is in perfect order. Preferably, you should run several long prints to see if any serious issues come up. This way you can get a better idea about how safe your setup is.
With all that in mind, 3D printers aren’t designed to start any kind of fire as long as they’re used correctly and nothing’s faulty. However, accidents happen the same way they can happen while you’re cooking. That’s why you need to take every precaution and preventive measure. Safety is your responsibility.
If you decide to print overnight or while you’re not at home, you should do everything in your power to ensure all safety precautions. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Get smoke detectors that will automatically shut off the power.
- Place your printer in an area where nothing is flammable.
- Check your printer to see if it has an auto-shutdown feature.
- Make sure the printer works as it should during long prints.
- If possible, use PLA and set the printer to lower temperatures.
- Avoid using a heated plate as long as it won’t compromise quality.
- Secure everything around the printer, including any wires and cables.
- Set up a monitoring system so you can check on your printer using your phone and receive warnings.
The main reason why fires and accidents happen is because the user doesn’t properly maintain his hardware and because of negligence. Don’t be that kind of user. Things can go wrong in a matter of minutes, even with the high-end printers.
Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers
The best safety investment you can make is installing smoke detectors and an automatic extinguishing system, especially in the room where your printer is. Fire spreads a lot faster than people think, so placing the extinguisher directly above the printer might save your house. Most people don’t even have a regular fire extinguisher in their home and they end up losing everything over a cooking-related fire or a random short circuit.
In addition, you can install a system that automatically shuts power in your home once smoke is detected. Before most fires start, there’s smoke, therefore there’s a bit of time to prevent a disaster if you use the right tools. Sometimes fires start because of too much flammable substance being used on top of the hot print plate to increase adhesion. Hairspray is one of those substances and it will cause smoke before starting a fire. Nonetheless, prevention systems aren’t infallible, so having a fire extinguisher will give you some peace of mind.
Finally, you can further reduce the risk of a fire by purchasing a printer made out of metal instead of plastic or other flammable materials. Since the printer generates a lot of heat to melt plastic, why take the risk of using a printer that can burn? Sure, the chance of it catching fire is very low, but nobody should take that chance. And while on that same note, you should avoid printing in your bedroom or office because there will be plenty of flammable items.
Remote Monitoring Systems
You can monitor the 3D printer through webcams while you’re away. This solution might not be ideal for overnight printing, since you’re at home sleeping, but nonetheless, it has its perks. You’ll be able to check on your printer’s status via your smartphone or laptop, and you can receive audible notifications when something goes wrong.
In addition, you can also install monitoring software that takes readings directly from the printer. These tools will alert you when there’s a problem with one of the parameters, such as temperature for instance.
Encasing your Printer
To completely remove the chance of your printer going up in flames, you can encase it or place it inside a cabinet where it won’t have enough oxygen to burn.
In the unlikely case of a fire occurring, it’s best to have an enclosure that can cut off the oxygen that a fire needs to grow and spread. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of money on a specialized 3D printer casing. Any flame retardant casing or enclosure will do. Even isolating the printer in an area surrounded by drywall is enough. However, the best solution is a 100% metal cabinet, which is something you can easily purchase or improvise on your own.
In addition to keeping your printer and home safe from fire, these enclosures will also keep the temperature stable around the printer. The result is a significant reduction in temperature variations, which may reduce the risk of having to deal with warping and other printing issues.
Here are a few other benefits of using a flame retardant enclosure for your printer:
- If something catches fire it won’t spread to the rest of the room.
- Helps maintain a stable ambient temperature around the print.
- Reduces the amount of dust that collects on your printer.
- Can reduce the amount of noise you hear, especially if you soundproof it as well. This is particularly beneficial if you plan on printing overnight.
3D Printer Quality Varies
Another thing to factor into your decision to leave the printer running overnight is the quality itself. Not all 3D printers are made equally. Some of them are known for having certain technical issues, like the Anet A8 that actually caused fires before. Others are completely notorious despite their price tag. On the other hand, there are quite a few printers that are considered to be completely safe, such as the CR-10. The bottom line is, the high price doesn’t guarantee a safe purchase. You need to do your research and determine the best option.
But even if you have a good or bad quality printer, there are improvements and upgrades you can make to leave it safely overnight. In most cases, it’s the wires that are a fire hazard. By powering the printer for an entire day, the wires will heat up, especially if they weren’t already designed for such heavy use. The solution is to simply replace them with bigger, thicker, and sturdier wires and connectors.
Hobby-grade printers sourced from unreliable manufacturers and budget-friendly DIY kits come with fewer or lower quality safety features. So, if you plan to leave a 3D printer unattended, it should be one with a high focus on safety. Printers like the Ender 3 V2 are good examples of high-quality mainstream printers that are reliable and packed with safety features. If you combine all of the aforementioned safety precautions with such a printer, you’ll be able to sleep soundly at night while your project comes to life.
Leaving a 3D printer running overnight or while you’re away is risky. No matter what printer you use and what safety precautions you take, there will always be a slim chance of an accident happening. However, there’s a large difference between a small chance of burning your house down and an infinitesimal chance of causing some damage to the printer.
So, if you’re determined to leave your printer on to wake up to a finished model, you should first make sure your printer comes with a wide array of safety features and then take every precaution mentioned above. Better safe than sorry!