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What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, is a process that builds up objects by selectively applying material in layers. The printer accomplishes this by using a variety of materials from thermoplastic filament to powered metal to concrete. However, many of these materials have hazards associated with them that users should know, understand, and be trained to handle.


There are many different hazards associated with 3D printers or any additive manufacturing process. These hazards include:

  • Hazardous vapors and gases emitted during the printing process. (i.e. ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds)

  • Hot surfaces –print head and UV lamps

  • High voltage – UV lamp connector, electric outlet safety certified and ground wire.

  • Ultraviolent radiation – UV lamp. Don’t look at the lamp; make sure the UV screen in intact.

  • Moving parts –printing assembly. 

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polylactic Acid (PLA), commonly used plastic filaments, have been found to release ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds when heated. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. The high pressure nature means that large numbers of molecules are able to evaporate and enter the surrounding air. Studies of the materials used for 3D printing, such as ABS, PLA, and nylon can be a source of dangerous VOCs such as styrene, butanol, cyclohexanone, ethylbenzene and others. Health effects from VOC emissions include eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea, and organ damage.

The following 3D printing precautions were collected from the recommendations published by NIOSH, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Florida, and University of Vermont:

  • Consult the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) of printing materials, and provide HAZCOM/GHS

  • training to all users.

  • Provide OSHA safety training to individuals that work with hazardous 3D printer chemicals

  • Provide training in the correct and safe operation of the 3D printer

  • Use 3D printers in a well-ventilated area

  • When using metal materials keep workspaces free of any static electricity

  • Do not open 3D printer covers once a print job is underway

  • Equip the facility with Class D fire extinguishers where appropriate and train on proper use

  • Wear personal protective equipment suggested by the SDS and 3D printing machine (remember: to wear a respiratory, you must follow AU personal protective equipment policy).

  • Handle uncured printing materials with neoprene or nitrile gloves

  • For print processes that use an alkaline bath to dissolve support material, provide an emergency eyewash station in the immediate vicinity of the work

  • Wear eye protection around liquid materials that can splash

  • Use solvent-absorbent pads for spills of printing material

  • Keep model and support materials away from areas where food and drink is stored, prepared, or consumed.

  • Do not leave a print job unattended. For extended print times,

  • Ensure that any hazardous materials and waste are stored and/or disposed of in compliance with all applicable regulatory agencies.

  • Safety signs and labels posted on and nearby printers should warn of emissions and hot surfaces. HVAC controls for ventilation should indicate the requirements for indoor air quality. Signs should indicate the location of eyewash stations, fire extinguishers, feedstock and chemical storage, and clean up supplies. In labs that employ anti-static measures, labeling equipment with a label that has anti-static properties like DuraLabel Electrostatic Dissipative Tape (ESD) will help avoid static buildup.

  • Floor marking tape installed around printer or alkaline baths indicate hazardous areas to laboratory staff.

  • Spill control and containment tools help prevent a chemical spill from spreading and ease clean-up.

  • Ensure that all chemicals are stored appropriately.

  • Use of this technology is exclusively for lawful, non-commercial purposes and in compliance with all Auburn University policies.

  • Follow all manufacturer instructions and operator manual(s).

  • Owners should ensure that a risk assessment is conducted as it relates to:

    • Use of the printer,

    • Hazards associated with media / printing materials,

    • Servicing & maintenance,

    • Prolonged exposure

  • Operators are permitted to request and review risk assessments.

  • Determine and sustain appropriate ventilation of local exhaust.

  • If PPE is required for any reason, ensure:

    • Proper style / material is available,

    • Training on hazards is provided,

    • It is properly worn, removed, stored and disposed

  • Ensure advisory & warning labels are posted.

  • Ensure no copyright / design infringements are committed.

  • The printing of weapons, weapons parts, or materials deemed “potentially dangerous” is prohibited.

For help with any of the aforementioned information, Auburn University Risk Management and Safety can help your department with identifying appropriate safety measures for each of your department’s processes. 

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3D Printer Registration Form

Hazard Assessment Form