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3D printer safety

As members are busy printing protective headshields for health & care workers the time seemed right to make a few points about safety.

Safety of PPE

If you're printing headshields remember that you can spread the coronavirus before you are aware you are affected. The printing process should easily kill any virus as the plastic is heated to around 200C. When printing you should ideally act as though you were infected and use fresh protective gloves and a facemask. I'm also using my first headshield to make sure I don't breath directly onto the finished shields. Clean your printer and work area scrupulously along with any tools you use to tidy your prints up with.

Bag your products up immediately, ideally in ziploc bags. You can using a separate bag for each day of production. It's a good idea to write the date of production on your bags. The Covid-19 virus (real name SARS-CoV-2) has been shown to live 3+ days on plastic at 21-23C, (and would be longer at lower temperatures), so another good option is to leave them for 4 days before distribution.

Your safety

There have been a small number of fires caused by unattended 3D printers. Using a security camera or a webcam to keep an eye on printing is a good idea. I've seen my printer 'hang' with the printhead temperature going way above the set temperature. Fortunately it was while warming up so I was around. I don't think it would crash while printing but I'm definitely not leaving it to print overnight just in case.

3D printers generate plastic nanoparticles. These are best avoided, so make sure your work area is well ventilated. Nanoparticle production is reduced at lower temperatures, so it is a good idea to experiment to see if you can lower your print temperature. I print PLA at 190C rather than the more usual 200C. Different materials generate varying amounts of nanoparticles, partly because higher print temperature requirements eg for ABS mean higher emissions. PLA appears to be the most forgiving and some researchers have shown very low levels of emissions from this plastic. Saying that, many brands of PLA appear to be 'watered down' with other plastics, so it is probably best to assume the worst.

Print safe!


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