It is always a good idea to prepare for the possibility of a fire, so you have the equipment to handle it and don’t panic. This is especially the case when you’ve got equipment that can get extremely hot. 3D printers generally print at between 150 and 250 °C depending on the material being used. This is definitely hot enough to be dangerous, and that’s before you consider any other factors.
The rising prevalence of cheap 3D printers has been popular and, predictably, led to lower material standards. A number of cases have been seen where poor-quality power connectors have ignited their plastic casings after shorting. Lack of thermal runaway protection combined with a faulty thermistor or loose heater cartridge has caused fires. In other printers, hairspray as an adhesive agent is also a fire risk when used around a heated printer.
Obviously, you’d rather not have a fire start. You can reduce the chance of it happening by performing basic safety measures and checks. It’s a fantastic idea to regularly check that everything in your printer is properly connected and secured. Electrical plugs and wires should be firmly in place. Components that get heated should be firmly attached and not loose.
You must check that thermal runaway protection is enabled in your printer’s settings and then test it. This can be the difference between your printer starting a fire and stopping when its temperature readings don’t make sense.
If you don’t actually plan for a fire, you can find yourself where you’re in a position where you may not even be able to handle a small fire. In this case you may have to just leave your house and wait for the fire brigade to arrive while your possessions burn and then suffer water damage. By thinking about what you would do if there was a fire, you can give yourself the best chance to have a good outcome.
Often overlooked, having a clean and tidy workspace means there’s less flammable material lying around. It also means that you’re less likely to trip over anything if you’re running over in a hurry to try to put out a fire.
The first thing you should do is ensure that your printer is not blocking any exit routes. Whether you consider the window an escape route or not is a personal choice. If it does start a fire, you want to make sure it doesn’t immediately block the door, trapping anyone inside or preventing you from getting in to try to put the fire out before it gets worse.
It can be a useful ventilation source most of the time. If you do plan to leave your window clear as a potential escape route, make sure to keep something nearby with which to safely break the glass. Additionally, try to be aware of what’s underneath the window. If you’ve got a long drop, you may want something to lower yourself with and secure that.
As the likely cause of a fire, you should place a smoke detector directly above your 3D printer. Yes, everyone knows you’re not supposed to leave the printer running unattended. Realistically though, everyone does it. When you’re running a long print, it can take days to finish. No one is going to keep watch for that long.
If you are going to step away from your printer, for any amount of time, be it to sleep, eat, or just to go to the bathroom, you should have a smoke detector. It can take seconds for things to go very, very wrong. If you do nothing else, get a smoke detector. It could just save your life and the lives of your family one day. They’re even cheaply available on Amazon for less than a spool of filament.
If you do notice a fire soon enough, either because you’re present, because your smoke alarm went off, or because you got lucky and happened to smell burning and check on it in time, then you’ll want to be able to do something about it. Ideally, what you want is a CO2 fire extinguisher as they are safest for electrical fires. These are the preferred extinguishers as they don’t leave the mess behind that dry chemical ones. That said, any extinguisher rated for electrical fires, also known as class C fires, will work.
Your extinguisher should be easily accessible at a moment’s notice and placed within arms reach of the door. It might be tempting to put it near the printer but avoid doing so. If a fire does start, you do not want it to engulf your fire extinguisher before the fire would be too big for it to manage.
It’s also a really good idea to familiarise yourself and your family members with how to use a fire extinguisher. You don’t want to have your kids stand there while they read the instruction label while the fire gets bigger because they don’t know how to work it. Yes, fire extinguishers are simple to use. However, in a panic, people react much better if they’re trained and know what to do.
It may require some wiring, but it would also help have some easily accessible power kill switch. If there is a fire, the first thing to be damaged will be the printer. This and the likely proximity of the wall socket means it might not be easily or safely possible to turn the printer off. In the worst-case scenario, this could potentially mean the heating element could still be stuck on after you think the fire is over. If you’ve got a power kill switch, again, ideally placed in an easily accessible location near the door, you can easily kill the power for the printer in an emergency.
Ideally, the kill switch should only control the power for the printer, or all of the normal plug sockets in the room. The room lighting should remain unaffected. You don’t want to punch the kill switch as you reach for the fire extinguisher, only to plunge yourself in to fire lit darkness.
Having a carefully thought-out fire safety plan can help you both prevent and prepare for a fire. Doing so can be the difference between having your printer burn down and having your house burn down. It could even save the lives of you and your family. While fire extinguishers may feel expensive, compare that to the fallout of fire – because you didn’t have an extinguisher when you needed it.
Even though you may never use it, it will more than pay for itself if you ever do need it. Have you got any other fire safety tips you want to share? We’d love to hear them. Let us know down below.