Kids are naturally drawn to 3D printing. Brightly colored fairly inexpensive objects that can be made to their specification are fascinating to kids. Yesterday we looked at some fun 3D printed object for kids. It's natural for parents to consider the safety of such objects.
The short answer is 3D printed objects and using a 3D printer can be safe for kids but there are lots of issues to consider. Parents and educators will need to consider the factors in their use of 3D printing to make a decision for the children in their care.
This article is for information and to help you work out what you need to be concerned about. Please make sure you consider the issues for your particular situation.
Materials and ObjectsThere are lots of different materials that can be used in 3D printers. There are even 3D printer extruders that can print with play dough, Plasticine and modeling clay.
These materials have their own age recommendations - the PlayDoh brand that we have at the moment says from 2 years.
And people are also printing with edible materials such as chocolate, fondant and cookie dough (we plan on trying this once we have a second 3D printer up and running.) These materials themselves are obviously safe but introduce new food hygiene requirements.
But, you also need to consider the printed objects themselves which could be dangerous. It's possible to print very dangerous objects using a 3D printer if that is the intention. Objects than are not intended to be dangerous can still pose a risk such as choking, pinching or cutting so the design of objects needs to be carefully considered.
"WARNING: Some printed parts may present a CHOKING HAZARD or may be SHARP; not for children under 3 years old." Cubify Warning
Objects printed using common 3D printing techniques are definitely not suitable for a child who may put objects in their mouth. Cubify clearly targets children with its 3D print-on-demand services and includes a warning for children under 3.
"THE MODELS ARE NOT SUITED TO BE USED AS TOYS" ShapewaysOn the other hand, the online 3D print-on-demand store Shapeways states that 3D printed objects are not toys in its terms and conditions. They also provide material safety data sheets for each of their materials. They are clearly not targeting children at this point.
Makie doll is a custom 3D printed doll that is made to order and has been taken through the certification process.
"Makies™ make history as the world’s first CE-certified EN71-compliant 3D printed toy
MakieLab’s one-of-a-kind action dolls are EU approved for kids aged 3 and up" Source
To achieve this certification the Makie doll has been through extensive testing.
3D Printers and the Printing ProcessAt this point in time a lot of 3D printers are homemade, often from kits of parts. The 3D printing process typically involves high temperatures as common materials such as plastic need to be melted in order to extrude them. Our home assembled 3D printer is definitely not safe for kids to use and they only get to watch it in action under close supervision.
"The only 3D printer certified for safe at-home use by adults and children." Cube
3D Systems specifically targets children with its Cube 3D printer. The Cube meets the IEC 60950 printer safety requirements. 3D systems refers to its Cube printer as suitable for ages 8 to 80.
3D Printing with materials such as modeling clay, play dough and Plasticine does not require high temperatures - the material is extruded through a syringe type device. ThinkGeek came up with a PlayDoh 3D printer controled from an iPad as an April fool this year but it's not really that far fetched. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see such a device that is targeted at young children in future. My kids would love it, that's for sure.
3D printers also have moving parts which may be exposed. We can't make general assumptions about children operating such 3D printers.
Another consideration is fumes created during the process of 3D printing. For materials such as ABS and Nylon there is a potential issue. This study (from a filament vendor) concludes that the materials are safe during 3D printing. But many consider it a sensible precaution to only 3D print with such materials in a well-ventilated space.
SummaryBasically, 3D printed objects can be safe for children over 3, depending on the materials used and the construction of the object. The process of 3D printing has lots of potential risks, but one product in particular, the Cube from 3DSystems, is suitable for children over the age of 8 and has obtained safety certification.
In future it's certainly possible that we'll see 3D printers for younger kids that use materials that can be extruded without the need for high temperatures.