• Burning Down The House: Is Desktop 3D Printing Safe?

    Over the years I’ve written a lot about the safety of desktop 3D printing. When Underwriters Laboratory announced plans to enter the market, I covered it. When Dremel launched the IdeaBuilder I wrote that in my experience, it was among the first to be UL and CE approved – not just at the component level, but the entire device.

    Later I wrote about Roger and Valerie Morash, who along with their cats died tragically of carbon monoxide poisoning in their apartment in Berkeley. They had a 3D printer and a laser cutter in their home. Some reports suggested that one of those devices were to blame. It’s more likely that a furnace or appliance caused the leak, but to my knowledge no final culprit has been found.

    In my article then, I noted that the 3D printing “industry is immature and much of the work that’s gone into creating these devices has been done by startups. Some don’t have prior experience working with consumer electronics. Until recently, very few desktop 3D printers were even UL or CE approved. Off-the-shelf components like power supplies and motors were typically conforming, but the devices themselves were untested.”

    I finished by saying that, “it’s possible that safety could become a big issue for the teachers, parents and children who will power the ‘Next Industrial Revolution’.”

    There are many potential safety hazards with desktop 3D printers. They are melting plastic, so there’s certainly heat, in addition to potential air quality issues. They’re also electronic devices, which mean they pose many of the same risks as other appliances.


    Over the past week, I’ve run into two different examples where desktop 3D printers either were, or could have been, a fire hazard. The first was mentioned in a thread on Reddit. The person actually had a house fire and blamed it on a cheap Chinese 3D printer he’d bought for $200.

    Apparently, he let it run while he was away from home. In his post he said, “I’ve had it since September and it’s worked fine but I guess the board just decided ‘Fuck it, imma start a fire >:)’ and started a fire.” The damage wasn’t catastrophic, but the fire department did confirm the printer had started the blaze.

    The second case was prevented in time, fortunately. The owner, Clement Travert, had purchased a Pegasus 12 kit from Maker Farm. After the incident he posted about it on the Facebook 3D Printing Club page. He used a 50 amp power supply unit (PSU) to power both the printer and the heated bed. He used speaker wire to connect the bed to the PSU.

    [Photo courtesy of Clement Travert]

    The group was quick to inform him of the dangers and he is currently rebuilding the machine with separate power supplies and the correct wiring.

    I spoke with Clement and he pointed out that, “the initial design was based on a recommendation from the manual provided by Maker Farm. I work as a draftsman for a company that provides air conditioners for yachts, so I’m very familiar with electronics. When I was building it I wondered why they would suggest that configuration. I should have trusted my gut instincts. It’s concerning that there is so much misinformation out there.”

    There have been plenty of other examples of fried wiring and components. The connectors and Melzi motherboard on the Wanhao i3/Maker Select V2 are known to be problematic. Reddit and other message boards are filled with comments regarding that configuration.


    So what should be done? Many believe it’s the consumer’s responsibility. They suggest you buy a more expensive 3D printer from a name brand. But even then there can be problems. Others suggest that buyers looks for a UL or CE approval. But in most cases, it’s still the components that are approved, not the entire device. As a result it takes extensive research to validate that each component is safe.

    Others suggest it comes down to use. Many manufacturers warn consumers not to let their 3D printers run while they are away from home. Some users even get concerned when they leave the room. As one commenter noted on the house fire thread, “I get anxious when I leave my maker select running while I’m in the shower.”

    Experienced users often suggest fire detection and protection. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are obvious. Enclosures are also recommended. Some even suggest fire suppression canisters like you might find on a commercial or residential stove hood.


    Do these precautions imply that a fire is not only possible, but likely?

    I guess that depends on who you ask. Some consumers are worried and they’re looking to raise awareness of the issue. Others are concerned it might lead to more regulation. Again, on the house fire thread, one commenter wrote:

    “A bored reporter hungry for a story will see a post like this and start researching the issues. He’ll put up nice pictures, like the one above, as well as fried connectors he finds online. He might even throw in that California couple that died from CO poisoning that happened to have a 3d printer running. And the facts really don’t need to be facts, because most people won’t know the difference. Then he’ll conclude with something like ‘this could have been avoided if there was some kind of certification necessary for 3d printers.’ And people will read it and instantly conclude that they shouldn’t get one because they catch fire. Eventually, if the story takes off, the government will have to step in and regulate.”

    My ears were burning! (Pardon the pun.)

    I don’t really have an answer for how to solve this issue. On one hand, it seems clear there is a potential for tragedy. You have lots of people who are new to 3D printing. They don’t understand electronics and in many cases have never even seen a soldering iron, much less used one. They probably wouldn’t recognize the signs of a bad connector and certainly wouldn’t know how to replace a wire or motherboard.

    They need a reliable plug-and-play experience.

    On the other hand you have hobbyists and professionals who are more than capable. But even they understand the dangers of leaving these devices unattended. Desktop 3D printers are slow and long print runs are a fact of life. A decent size part can often take 40 hours or more to print.

    It’s pretty unrealistic to think someone can be watching their machine for the entire duration.

    Should desktop 3D printers be regulated more strictly? It’s a tough question with many different nuances. But one thing is certain. More of them are in the hands of consumers than ever before.

    Safety is an important issue that sooner or later the industry must address. I’d rather be proactive than wait until someone gets hurt…or worse.

    So for now, all I can do is raise awareness of the issue and encourage people to follow a few basic safety procedures. Check your hardware for signs of a potential problem. Update your firmware as directed. Use smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors. Visually confirm that the printer is operating properly, and don’t leave it running when you’re not in the vicinity.

    Do you think the industry needs to better address the safety issues of 3D printing? Discuss in the Safety Issues forum at

    [Creative Commons House Fire Spray is Copyright © 2008 by Rob Swystun]


    John Hauer is the Founder and CEO of Get3DSmart, a consulting practice which helps large companies understand and capitalize on opportunities with 3D printing. Prior to that, John co-founded and served as the CEO of 3DLT. The company worked with retailers and their suppliers, helping them sell 3D printable products, online and in-store.

    John’s original content has been featured on TechCrunch, Futurism,,, and, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @Get3DJohn


    From 3dprint Thursday, May 25, 2017
  • Computers toughen up

    Modern laptops and PDAs may be performance heavyweights but threaten them with any form of physical ‘abuse’ and they become glass-jawed weaklings

    Problem: Modern laptops and PDAs may be heavyweights when it comes to performance but threaten them with any form of physical abuse, such as dropping them, and they become glass-jawed weaklings. Laptops are the most vulnerable and, depending on how they land, some damage can usually be expected.
    Solution: Scottish company, Diagnostic Instruments , has designed a computer terminal with and on behalf of Siemens, which can survive repeated drops onto a hard surface from a height of 2m – regardless of orientation.
    The Mobic T8, described as a ‘mobile industrial communicator’, is a full-blown computer, with a 168MHz NEC 64-bit MIPS VR4121 processor, 32MB of Flash memory, 48MB of RAM and an 8.4in SVGA LCD screen.
    Ruggedness is achieved by armouring the two ends with elastomer and mounting the screen and lamp in a cradle on four elastomeric mounts. The case, made of Bayer ‘Bayblend’ FR90 PC/ABS, can also take its fair share of knocks. One of the cunning aspects of the design is that the cradle is able to move up to 5mm to absorb impact shocks, but manages to do so without compromising the IP65 environmental protection. The Windows CE 3.00 OS negates the need for a shock-sensitive hard drive.
    Applications: The device can communicate via an RJ45 Ethernet socket, an irDA (infrared) interface or RS232 port. It can also be fitted with PCMCIA wireless LAN, LAN, WAN, GSM or GPRS cards. Potential markets include: garages, for MOT tests; industrial automation; warehouses; defence; servicing and maintenance; the police and fire brigade; safety; and the construction industry. Prices start from £2,250. It would be nice if all electronic handhelds and laptops were as rugged as this. TS To e-mail Siemens click here.

    From eurekamagazine Tuesday, October 15, 2002
  • Schools Recognized for Teaching PMMI Competencies

    On August 18th, the Industrial Maintenance Training Center of Pennsylvania (PA) recognized nine schools spread across the Commonwealth for their ability to provide current and prospective workers with the skills needed to qualify for the Advanced Manufacturing / Integrated Systems Technology (AM/IST) certificate.  The skills required for this certificate are recognized in the US Department of Labor’s Mechatronics Competency Model.  This model is supported by PMMI and is the basis of the skills tested for in PMMI’s first three mechatronics certificates.

    School administrators, representing the schools that qualified on the basis of a detailed audit, were recognized at a reception held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Workforce Investment Boards (WIB).  All 23 of Pennsylvania’s WIB’s have signed on to the importance of teaching multi-skilled advanced industrial maintenance programs to support the mechatronic systems critical to world class manufacturing.  Certificates were presented by state and regional officials at this statewide conference to emphasize the importance of these education programs to the commonwealth’s advanced manufacturing infrastructure.

    Multi-skilled industrial maintenance technicians are in short supply.  A study completed earlier this year for the PA  Governor’s office indicated that over the next ten years, the availability of trained personnel will fall short by a factor of 40 to 1 unless educational programs are ramped up considerably.  One company recently re-sited a planned steel making operation and its 300+ jobs for lack of skilled maintenance technicians in the region.  A skilled maintenance technician can easily support 10 manufacturing jobs and a manufacturing job is said to have similar leverage in the supply chain. Packagers and packaging machinery builders will be competing with all advanced manufacturing industries for scarce resources.

    To address these issues, PMMI has teamed up with PA’s Industrial Maintenance Training Center and its governance board, the Mid-Atlantic Mechatronics Advisory Council, to provide much needed credentials to identify individuals who meet certain skill requirements.  At a minimum, an entry level multi-skilled maintenance technician should be able to pass PMMI’s tests for Introduction to Mechanical Components, Introduction to Industrial Electricity, and Introduction to PLC’s.

    Schools, employers and government are of a like mind that transportable industry credentials are essential. In fact, government will not permit secondary school programs to be taught unless such credentials are available.  Without these credentials, we are like a dog chasing its tail.  

    PMMI has stepped up to make sure that credentials are available to facilitate the establishment of these education programs and to help employers gauge the capabilities of current or prospective employees.  Nine high schools, community colleges and private colleges across Pennsylvania are now certified to teach all or parts of these programs.  More will follow, both in PA and elsewhere, until we establish a nationwide capability with a workforce pipeline to support world-class mechatronic-enabled manufacturing.

    From automationworld Monday, August 22, 2011
  • Baumer: Incremental Encoders Provide Options for the Drives Industry.

    The encoders deliver better than 1 arc minute accuracy for precise control in applications such as speed regulation for web presses and both speed and position control for robotics. Their shaftlock design and rugged bearings withstand higher shaft run-outs, prolonging encoder life and accuracy. The encoders are available with industry standard electrical outputs and through hollow shaft diameter from 10 mm to 1 inch. MIL-= connectors or cable glands allow easy installation and wiring, and various tether kits are available to simplify mounting. Operational speed ratings are possible to 12,000 rpm. The operational temperature range for the HS35 is from -40 °F to +212 °F (-40 to 100 ºC), and seal protection ratings are available in IP 54, IP 65, and IP 67. The OptoPulse EIL580 is available with 6 and 10 mm shafts, as well as 8 to 15 mm blind and through hollow shaft configurations, all in standard 58-mm housing diameter. Operating temperature rating is -40 °F to +185 °F (-40 to 85 ºC). Seal protection ratings of IP 65 and IP 67 are offered, and connection options range from cable gland to M12 connector to M23 connector. Operational speed ratings of up to 6,000 rpm are possible.

    >>For more information on this product, click here

    From automationworld Thursday, November 14, 2013
  • Fabrisonic Builds Fully Dense, Complex Metal Parts & Heat Exchanges Via Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing

    Fabrisonic has developed a unique additive manufacturing method which is a sort of hybrid of ultrasonic welding and CNC milling, and the company uses the technology to create complex and detailed full-metal parts which can also include embedded electronics.


    Since 2011, Fabrisonic has been producing parts for aerospace, automotive, research, and industrial applications. The process is a relatively high-speed, Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) technique which is capable of making what are called ‘fully-dense’ parts.

    DSC_0910_opt1This UAM process uses layers of metal foil and combines them in true metallurgical bonds, and the technique works with copper, stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium. The Fabrisonic method can ‘print’ multiple metals together, and all without unwanted metallurgical changes. The process takes rolls of metal strips to print parts using aluminum and copper which can include highly complex internal channels – arranged in any direction – with a solid-state welding technique.

    The UAM process works like this: solid metal objects are built up via ultrasonically welding a series of metal tapes into a three-dimensional shape while periodic machining operations create the detailed internal shapes of the resultant objects.

    Using high frequencies of around 20,000 hertz, ultrasonic vibrations are applied to the metal foil materials which are pressed together under pressure, and that creates a weld. Successive layers are welded together to build up height. The ultrasonic welding process has been around since the 1960s, and the ultrasonic vibrations involved create a ‘friction-like’ relative motion between two surfaces which causes shearing and deformation between the opposing surfaces through the combination of heat and pressure.

    Like the 3-axis CNC mills the device is derived from, the welding process can be stopped at any point and three-dimensional channels can be machined. The additive process can then be used to build up metal to seal complex 3D flow paths.

    With heat output from electronic devices growing steadily, thermal management components are becoming a key to design concerns. This kind of heat exchanger device was once CNC machined, but machining is limited in its ability to create complex passages and arrays of cross-drilled holes and paths.


    Complex internal geometries with metal 3D printing can now be built which are composed of metals and alloys which feature the high thermal conductivity necessary, and copper and aluminum are the materials of choice for their excellent conductivity.

    But it may well be the ability of processes like the UAM technique to include embedded electronics which is the most critical. In the UAM process, fiber optics, thermocouples, and circuits can be sandwiched within layers of metals, and by placing a thermocouple inside of a monolithic structure, Fabrisonic could open new paths to design flexibility.

    While the design complexity limitations of the UAM technique doesn’t allow for the same sort of freedom that other 3D methods as a CNC milling step is required for each layer, it does open up the possibility of more intricate designs than milling alone provides.


    Are you aware of any other novel AM technologies like this UAM process from Fabrisonic? Let us know in the Hybrid AM and Milling Process forum thread on

    From 3dprint Friday, February 13, 2015