3D printing has become a growing trend for individuals and businesses alike, from enthusiasts producing 3D figurines to construction companies creating the world’s first 3D printed neighborhood in Texas. As more 3D printers are used in homes, it’s important to understand the potential fire risks involved, how to follow 3D printing safety practices, and why investing in Docking Drawer's Fire Guard Outlets can help you stop 3D printer fires before they start.
Prusa Mini+ 3D printer using Docking Drawer’s Fire Guard Outlet.
3D printing involves using software to design a 3D object by using high heat and a thread-like filament to create the object in three-dimensional layers. There are many different types of filament available for 3D printing, each requiring high temperatures for proper melting and extrusion.
If not carefully monitored and controlled, this heat generation can potentially cause the filament to catch fire, posing a significant fire hazard. A few of the most popular heat-generating 3D printing materials include:
- Polylactic Acid (PLA) is the most common 3D printing material, with a hot end temperature of up to 428°F (220°C).
- Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is another common material often used with PLA and has a similar ideal temperature of up to 428°F (220°C).
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is popular for creating 3D models of items like phone cases, automotive parts, and even Legos. The printing temperature for ABS can vary; however, some popular brands require temperatures up to 464°F (240°C).
The Most Common Fire Hazards for 3D Printers
As you might imagine, with a machine operating at such high temperatures, there are a variety of fire hazards that are inherently part of the 3D printing process:
If you use a 3D printer at home, you may have already experienced how hot these machines can get. Some 3D printers can reach up to 600°F, but even at lower temperatures, there is potential for wiring to become overheated and catch fire.
An extruder uses heat to melt the filament to create the 3D design. It must cool down between each layer to reduce the risk of overheating, so if the extruder gets stuck in one spot of the design, then the melting of the filament could result in a fire.
The thermistor is the device responsible for regulating the temperature of the 3D printer, and if the thermistor is loose, it won’t be able to accurately measure the temperature which increases the chance of overheating and catching fire.
Faulty thermal runaway protection
Commonly a result of incorrectly installed hardware, thermal runaway is when a 3D printer temperature cannot stop increasing. Thermal runaway protection will shut off the printer if it gets too hot. However, if the thermal runaway protection is loose or has malfunctioned, there is an increased chance of a 3D printer fire.
While enclosures are intended to reduce the risk of fire, using materials like wood, foam, and plastic can be a fire hazard since they are all combustible materials. Having flammable materials in close proximity to the 3D printer increases the likelihood that they could catch fire from the high temperatures generated during the printing process.
A 3D printing fire hazard with filament that overheated and became melted. Image source: Reddit.
Practice 3D Printing Safety for Overnight & Extended Printing
Reasons 3D Printers Are Often Run Overnight
Many 3D printer enthusiasts tackle large or complex designs that require prolonged printing times, sometimes extending beyond 24 hours. The performance and longevity of these high-quality 3D printers are closely linked to the frequency of their use and adherence to proper maintenance and cleaning protocols.
However, given the lengthy printing times, challenges arise, particularly with overnight printing. Although manufacturers often advise against leaving 3D printers unattended, monitoring a print job for extended periods, such as 12 hours, is impractical.
This leads to the practice of pausing prints overnight with the intention to resume printing the next morning. Yet, this approach has its pitfalls. The printed object tends to shrink as it cools down overnight, and when you resume printing, this can lead to inconsistencies and defects in the final design, compromising its structural integrity and visual appeal.
Enclosures for Improved 3D Printing Safety
To enhance 3D printing safety, many individuals adopt a proactive fire mitigation strategy by investing in or constructing a fireproof enclosure for their 3D printer. This enclosure serves as a crucial layer of protection to reduce fire risks, particularly in cases of a loose thermistor leading to overheating, and it also minimizes exposure to potentially harmful fumes generated during the printing process.
These enclosures are also beneficial for maintaining a consistent internal temperature, shielding the printing environment from external air currents or heat drafts, which could otherwise adversely affect the accuracy and quality of the 3D prints.
The Best Accessory to Reduce 3D Printer Fire Hazards
Connect your 3D printer to the Docking Drawer Fire Guard Outlet (choose the 15 amp or 20 amp configuration) —or, if you need to de-energize more than one device, connect your printer and up to three additional devices to the Fire Guard Disconnect with Smoke and Heat Sensor. The interlocking safety outlet will cut power to the outlet itself and to the connected 3D printer at the first sign of smoke or excessive heat, potentially saving you hundreds of thousands of dollars in smoke and fire restoration costs.
This accessory is highly recommended for general 3D printing practices, especially for those who leave printers running unattended for long periods of time. Just take it from our customer, Patryk:
"I run my 3D printer overnight and when I'm at work. I'm worried if there is a fire I will burn the house down... There are stories online of people’s houses burning down due to 3D printers. It's rare. But I'd rather have this device as a backup rather than risk what could happen without it." – Patryk W.
Example of the 3D printing safety accessory in place with the Smoke and Heat Sensor.
How the Fire Guard Safety Outlets Improves 3D Printing Safety
When it comes to 3D printer safety, Docking Drawer’s Fire Guard Safety Outlets are a simple, safe, and smart (not to mention affordable) solution.
The Fire Guard Safety Outlets are available in either a 15 amp or 20 amp single gang electrical outlet that features one interlock switch connector and one NEMA 5-15 receptacle. For multiple appliance protection, the Fire Guard Disconnect with Smoke and Heat Sensor integrates with a double or triple gang junction box (with or without GFCI), and can be GFCI-configured in two different ways. All outlets have an LED indicator that will light up green when the outlet and 3D printer are energized and will turn red and sound an alert when the outlet and 3D printer have been de-energized due to smoke or excessive heat.
The heat and smoke detector mounts nearby, and will de-energize the outlet and connected printer at the first sign of smoke or excessive heat, or if the temperature rises more than 15°F per minute. This safety outlet features a low-voltage, 10-foot long cable and is intended to be an additional layer of safety for your 3D printer (it is not a replacement for an approved smoke detector, as required by code for your home).
Rendering showing where the Fire Guard Outlet and Smoke and Heat Sensor are installed on a 3D printer.
Invest in the Safety of Your Home
Investing in safety is more than just protecting items from being damaged or avoiding expensive restoration costs; it can mean investing in the safety of yourself and your family when accessories like 3D printers are used in the household. Installing any of the Fire Guard Safety Outlets is simple and is well worth knowing you have additional protection against the known fire hazards of 3D printing.
This setup is both easy to implement and invaluable for reducing the risks of 3D printers catching fire. The integration of heat and smoke detectors as a safety feature offers an early warning system, alerting you of any potential fire hazards.
You can purchase the Fire Guard Disconnect with Smoke and Heat Sensor alone or purchase the 15 amp and 20 amp Docking Drawer Fire Guard Safety Outlets in packs of 1, 5, or 10 to not only enhance 3D printer safety measures but also to protect yourself from other common household fire culprits like microwaves, dishwashers, electric dryers, A/V closets, and any device that's left unattended while powered on.
“That’s the beauty of your [product]! It activates at the earliest possible moment and kills the power creating the opportunity for either self-extinguishment or better yet, no fire at all. I teach a monthly fire extinguisher class where I tell the students that “if you can de-energize the equipment, 90% or the majority of the time the fire will self-extinguish.”
– RICH D. RETIRED FIRE CHIEF
Gambody Team. (2022, June 8). 3D printer fire risks with overnight printing. Gambody, 3D Printing Blog. Retrieved from https://www.gambody.com/blog/prevent-3d-printer-fire-issues-is-it-safe-to-leave-a-3d-printer-on-overnight/
Reynolds, J. (2022, October 26). Is 3D printing a fire hazard? Nikko Industries. Retrieved from https://www.nikkoindustries.com/blogs/news/is-3d-printing-a-fire-hazard/
Ben. (2022, September 15). How hot is too hot for a 3D printer? Printing It 3D. Retrieved from https://printingit3d.com/how-hot-is-too-hot-for-a-3d-printer/