3D Printing When Not at Home: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


3D Printing When Not At Home

3D printing when you are not at home seems like the normal thing to do, but I started to think whether it was actually a good idea. I’ve done some research to find out if it’s something that can be done without issues.

3D printing when not at home: should I do it? You should not leave your 3D printer unattended while printing as it is not safe. Many examples show fires breaking out and spreading around the room. There are ways to make it more likely to be safer such as using a full metal enclosure and having upgraded safety firmware.

There are a lot of things to take into account when deciding to print while away from home. In this post I’ve described many safety precautions that will make things a lot more feasible for you to print at home when you aren’t there.

3D prints can take many hours, even more than a day to complete a print. So it’s pretty unlikely that people haven’t left their printer running while asleep or while they were out.

How much are you willing to risk your house burning down? It just isn’t worth printing while not at home unless you have real preventative measures in place. It seems to be a risk many people seem to take on regularly.

Getting yourself a reliable 3D printer is essential in 3D printing comfortably at home. You can’t go wrong with the Ender 3 V2 3D Printer (Amazon). It’s been growing in popularity massively in the past few months because it does everything so well!

It has:

  • Silent motherboard – gives strong anti-interference, faster and more stable motion & silent printing
  • Safety UL Certified Meanwell Power Supply for long print times – concealed within the machine for increased safety.
  • New 4.3″ UI User Interface – simple and clear operation and improved user experience
  • Easy filament feeding with the rotary knob on the extruder
  • Carborundum Glass Platform – fast heating bed, prints stick better, and ultra smooth bottom layers

You can also get the Ender 3 V2 from BangGood for cheaper! (Delivery make take longer)

What Can Go Wrong If I’m Not At Home?

A lot can happen from the time you leave home and come back when 3D printing. It makes sense, if you have a 10-hour print and leave for work or head out for day to come back to a lovely final print.

Unfortunately, there are some issues to keep in mind when leaving 3D printers active when not at home. There are many ways to protect your 3D printer from fire but with these hot temperatures, electrical currents and DIY nature of 3D printing, there’s always a way that fires can occur without triggering some preventative alarm systems.

3D printing mostly comes with experience, knowing how your prints will process over a certain period of time. For example, if you wanted to leave your 3D printer running while you left the house, you may opt in for a print lasting a few hours rather than a 10-hour print.

The longer your printer is running, the longer it has for something to go wrong with potentially damning consequences.

For the most part, it’s not a great idea to leave your home with the washing machine, oven or dishwasher on but people still do it. The usual home appliances don’t have failures as often as 3D printers do.

There are many elements to a 3D printer that make it complex and therefore, less safe than common household appliances. It is however, quite rare for a 3D printer to fail in a dangerous way and most of the time it just results in a bad quality final print.

The most popular and well-respected 3D printer is the Ender 3 V2 (Amazon or from BangGood), one of the best beginner 3D printers out there and produces high quality prints. You are unlikely to experience much issues with a well put together Ender 3 printer.

From the high temperature extruder, to heated beds to motors and fans there are many issues that can occur. The problems come in due to the nature of how 3D printing processes are set up.

You have very high levels of control to set your 3D prints up, whereas household appliances operate how the manufacturer intended for you to operate, with knobs and switches.

The main serious failures that occur with a 3D printer is electronic fires, due to electrical currents and heat building up in the wiring. Most people aren’t electrical engineers so might not be clued up in knowing what to check on and look for, but this side of things is very important.

Electronic fires can easily spread around a room, even if the chances are small of it starting are small. An example of a way a flame can start is a connector not being able to handle the current from the heated bed.

 If you want to 3D print when you are not home, make sure you are knowledgeable on the wiring aspect of your printer. 

If you have a 3D printer which was built up from a kit, the electrical safety standards are your responsibility, and not the manufacturer of the kit. This means if you are not an expert and put together a kit, it’s definitely not something you want to leave on while not at home.

I think once you’ve established that your printer isn’t faulty, and has printed many times without issues (especially longer prints), then you have a much better idea on how safe it will be but this isn’t 100% accurate.

Your normal 3D printer operation doesn’t usually start fires, neither does cooking but we all know it can happen. Knowing things can go wrong is a risk that people are willing to take responsibility for.

Preventative Measures For Printing When Not At Home

If you ever want to entertain the idea of 3D printing when not at home, you need to have several safety measures in place. Before every print, make sure to do a visual inspection of your components and make sure things are where they should be.

A few tips for you to follow:

  • Check if your machine has an auto-shut off function.
  • Research your thermal runaway settings.
  • Get fire/smoke detection shut-off switches that cuts off power when something is detected.
  • Isolate your printer from any flammable objects. (Filament is flammable).
  • Consistently operate your printer and know that it works well.
  • Print at lower speeds and lower temperatures as well as using PLA without a heated bed if possible.
  • Get a camera set-up going so you can always check into your 3D printer.
  • Make sure all your wiring and screws are secure and nothing is loose.

At the end of the day, all fires that have happened are because of operator error and a lack of maintenance. On top of that, not monitoring a printer in action. Even if you have a high-quality printer, there is still the possibility that something could go wrong.

This is similar to having an expensive, well-made car but not maintaining it, you wouldn’t be surprised if you have some serious deterioration over time.

Enclosure

In the unlikely case that any fires occur, it’s best to have an enclosure which can cut off the oxygen a fire needs to grow.

Using software and hardware can assist you in having a safer environment for your printer. Also having flame retardant enclosures such as drywall, fibreboard or metal. A full metal cabinet seems to be a great solution to combat this.

There is an added advantage of maintaining the temperature around your prints making it more stable, and reducing warping. Many times with longer prints, it just isn’t feasible to be able to constantly watch it.

Creality have manufactured a pretty cool fireproof enclosure for 3D printers which you can purchase straight from Amazon, but they are pretty premium.

Get the Creality Fireproof 3D Printer Enclosure for your 3D printer for maximum safety! It fits the Ender 3, Ender 5 and other similar sized 3D printers.

If you need a larger version, they have you in mind. The Creality Large Fireproof 3D Printer Enclosure is also available from Amazon for a slightly higher price.

These enclosures will give you that necessary peace of mind to be able to print when your not at home.

It also has many added benefits such as:

  • Keeping a constant temperature printing environment to improve printing stability
  • Flame retardant with pure aluminum film – will melt rather than catch fire and stops the spread.
  • Quick and easy installation, just like everybody loves!
  • Also reduces noise for those pesky loud 3D printers and provides dust protections
  • Very stable iron pipe structure so it can withstand plenty

Smoke Detector & Fire Extinguisher

Having a smoke detector which is linked to a sprinkler system is a great idea to combat fires. If a fire does occur, the speed at which they can spread is just too fast for you to be able to do anything if you are not present.

A great method to combat fires is to have an automatic fire extinguisher mounted above your printer in the case that a fire breaks out.

There are some automatic fire suppression systems which can react to nearby fires by dousing them and putting them out. Also having a smoke detector/relay combo to cut power if any smoke is detected.

Smoke will usually come before a fire starts so having the power cut out before anything catches or spreads is a good idea.

One of the causes of fires starting can be from using too much hairspray or other substance on the heated bed to stabilise a prints first layer. If you want to run a printer while you aren’t at home or sleeping, definitely don’t use these substances.

Aluminum build plates are your best bet, and have a fire extinguisher nearby in case.

The Automatic Self-Activation Fire Extinguisher Ball is a great device that gives you an important safety feature and peace of mind in the rare event of a fire. It’s lightweight and promptly triggers in 2-3 seconds to suppress a fire, as well as sounding off a 120 decibel alarm.

At minimum you should have a smoke detector, a good one from Amazon is the Combination Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector. You should also have a fire extinguisher on hand, the First Alert Fire Extinguisher does the job (#1 best seller on Amazon).

In the case of fires, wooden printers or plastic printers should be totally avoided as they will add to the fire. The printers you want should be made from some kind of metal such as aluminium.

Just because the chances of fires breaking out are rare, doesn’t mean you should assume it won’t happen to you. 3D printing, especially in a bedroom is a bad idea because there are usually many flammable items in a bedroom. These things won’t just affect you, but everyone around you.

Webcam Viewing Tool

Webcams can be set up so you can monitor your 3D printer remotely while it’s working but you may be helpless to stop it if something went wrong. A popular choice for 3D printer users is the Jun-Electron 5MP 1080P Video Camera Module for Raspberry Pi 4.

This module also requires a Raspberry Pi, the Model B is a great choice.

Having a live-feed camera on your 3D printer, with temperature readings being sent to yourself could combat this. Then in addition to this, having an emergency stop feature on your phone.

There is software out there that allows you to pause/cancel prints if something is going wrong, such as the MakerBot Desktop or Belkin App.

Not All 3D Printers Are Built The Same

There’s a huge variety of 3D printers which are built differently, with some being flagged for having issues. Most 3D printers tend to use many universal parts but there’s a distinction between high-quality and low-quality 3D printers.  There’s been stories about certain printers which are notorious for causing issues.

The Anet A8 is one of the main culprits which have caused fires to break out, whereas the CR-10 is seen as a safe option. I think it mainly comes down to the wiring and currents running through the wires which cause fires.

In all fairness, the main issues that caused this have been patched up so an Anet A8 isn’t the worst 3D printer you can get but it definitely has a reputation.

Wires heat up and expand which results in more resistance and more resistance means more heat which continues into a cycle of overheating. The solution is to have high-quality, larger wires and connectors which can help withstand these currents.

This post here explains that even after many ‘standard’ upgrades and safety features were installed a fire still managed to break out. In this case, it wasn’t the usual culprits that cause fires such as the power supply, control board, or hot bed.

It was actually the hot end where the heat element actually de-attached from the hot end block. The firmware which was installed didn’t actually have the thermal runaway protection to shut off the system when temperature readings don’t match up.

You definitely do not want to leave a cheap Chinese model 3D printer unattended, because there is so much that can go wrong.

Practically speaking, there is a very rare chance that a manufactured 3D printer to cause a fire, but that small chance is enough to be wary about it. 3D printer manufacturers are constantly putting more emphasis on safety features so over time it will get better.

3D printers that are ‘hobby-grade’ can fail and result in fiery disasters. This is why you definitely want a metal enclosure as a safety measure. Even with all the safety methods you implement, if a fire does break out you won’t be able to do much if you aren’t there.

Some 3D printers are very low-power and so are much less likely to become a fire hazard. These can be a much better option if you wish to 3D print over long periods of time or overnight.

When looking online about fires from 3D printers, there’s a whole host of examples where people have walked into terrifying situations. This alone is enough to be informed that 3D printing when not at home is not a good idea.

The Ender 3 V2 (Amazon or from BangGood cheaper) as previously mentioned is going to set you in the right direction for a high quality, popular 3D printer that has a serious focus on safety. Long printing times and safety features are up-to-date and reliable.

Related Questions

Will My Pets Be Safe With My 3D Printer? Pets can be very curious so if your 3D printer is not in an enclosure, it can be dangerous but not life threatening. Most safety issues will be possible burns from high temperatures. Having your printer in an isolated room or out of reach should make it safe.

Are Cheaper 3D Printers Safe to Leave Unattended? Even though 3D printers are getting safer, I wouldn’t leave cheaper 3D printers unattended as they do have more problems. These may be manufactured without as much trials and testing than more expensive printers, so not the best idea to leave these unattended.

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