Building a makerspace? Safety considerations for 3D printers, drones, and laser cutters

Makerspaces are amazing places for learning and discovery – unparalleled spaces that encourage people to learn through hands-on discovery. At the same time, makerspaces often contain equipment that can be extremely dangerous.

At the MakerBus we often consult with organizations that are interested in building makerspaces. From libraries, to schools, to community centres, we are going to see a dramatic increase in public makerspaces in the next few years. Here are a few health and safety considerations to keep in mind when using 3D printers, drones, or laser cutters in a makerspace.

3D Printer Health and Safety Considerations:

  • Hot end are extremely hot – There’s a reason why the nozzle on a 3D printer is called a “hot end” – it’s because they’re extremely hot. To print PLA plastic using the 3D printer on the MakerBus, the hot end heats to more than 200 degrees Celsius! Since the hot end is exposed on many 3D printers, this means that people can easily burn themselves if they put their hands into the print bed area when the printer is working. For makerspaces that work with children this can be a serious concern, since the hot end doesn’t look hot and many children may be interested in putting their hands in the print area. For this reason, children should always be supervised when using 3D printers.

mk8_nozzle_medium

  • Unhealthy air emissions – a 2013 study suggests that using a 3D printer in a non-ventilated area can emit potentially harmful nano-sized particles. While heating the plastic to make prints, the 3D printers using PLA filament emitted 20 billion ultrafine particles per minute, and the ABS emitted up to 200 billion particles per minute. These particles can settle in the lungs or the bloodstream and pose health risk, especially for those with asthma. For this reason we always use our 3D printer in large, well-ventilated area or outside where the particles can dissipate. We also prefer to use PLA plastic over ABS, both because PLA comes from more sustainable sources and releases fewer potentially harmful compounds. If you are building a makerspace with a 3D printer, you must consider how you will ventilate the workshop.
  • Most 3D printed objects aren’t food safe – While you can certainly print a variety of kitchen items with a 3D printer, most PLA and ABS plastics used in 3D printing aren’t food safe. Most plastics available on the market leave tiny gaps in the print that trap bacteria, making the 3D printed objects nearly impossible to clean. Moreover, PLA plastic dissolves in hot water, making it difficult to properly sterilize PLA prints.

Drone Health and Safety Considerations:

We love our quadcopter and have used it in a number of public education projects. As drones and quadcopters become more user friendly, it’s tempting to not treat these objects with the caution and respect they deserve. Keep in mind considerations like:

  • Civil Aviation Laws – In Canada (and in most countries) there are rules governing the use of unmanned flying aircraft (click here to see Canada’s regulations). Check out this infographic for an overview of drone regulations in Canada.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.04.01 AM

  • Be aware of your surroundings – Drones are not the most reliable machines. Either through human error or mechanical error, they are prone to falling out of the sky or crashing. Always be aware of your surroundings when flying a drone or quadcopter. Don’t fly drones near traffic or large groups of people.
  • Blades can be dangerous – Quadcopters have four carbon fibre blades that turn extremely fast. If anyone comes in contact with a moving blade, they will be severely cut. When flying a drone, you’re basically flying something with four spinning knives – be cautious.

Laser Cutter Health and Safety Considerations:

While extremely useful, laser cutters have the potential to be extremely dangerous tools. We recommend that anyone who is interested in setting up a laser cutter in their makerspace consult a trained professional. There are three main hazards associated with laser cutters: light, electrical, and fume.

  • Light hazards – Again this might seem obvious, but always keep in mind that laser cutters use lasers to cut. This means that proper eye protection should always be worn when using laser cutters. If any light beams from the laser cutter enter the eye, there is potential for retinal burning or damage to the front of the eye. If skin comes in contact with the beam, burning and/or scarring may occur. Laser cutters should be enclosed to protect operators and viewers.

sillyduck

  • Electrical hazards – Laser cutters operate at high voltage to ensure no accidental contact with high voltage, interlocks and shorting systems must be used.
  • Fume hazards – Even more than with 3D printers, proper ventilation is critical for the use of laser cutters. It is critical that laser cutters never be used to cut PVC or vinyl because they will release hydrochloric acid which is toxic to humans and corrosive to machines. When using a laser cutter you should never cut unknown materials. Unknown materials can release harmful chemicals or start fires. If your makerspace is interested in using laser cutters, make sure that you install a proper ventilation system that includes an air scrubber. If you have questions about operating a laser cutter, wiki.makerspaces.org has a good introduction.

Laser cutters can be used for amazing projects, but most professionals agree that they shouldn’t be used without first receiving proper training.

Laser cut birdhouse
                         Laser cut birdhouse

While we don’t want to scare people away from using these tools, we do recommend that safety should be a chief consideration when equipping any makerspace. All tools, whether it’s a hammer or a laser cutter, should be used with care and respect.

If you liked this article, why not follow the MakerBus on twitter (@DHMakerBus) or like us on Facebook (/dhmakerbus)? We post some of the most creative maker projects found on the web every day. If you #getonthebus, we promise a fun ride!

-The MakerBus team

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