Air quality concern with 3D printers and libraries?

Someone just brought this to my attention (Thanks so much, R!), and I think it should be considered as a factor in libraries:

3D Printers May Be As Hazardous To Your Health As Cigarettes

The somewhat hysterical tone of the Huff Post article needs some parsing. First of all, I recommend the Printrbot Jr. for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. my own familiarity with it (disclaimer: I am not shilling for this company, though if they want to give me free stuff for my recommendation and many demos to librarians, I am not so ethical that I’d turn it down. Hint, hint, Brook Drumm.)
  2. you can easily build it yourself, even if you’re completely ignorant of electronics, if you can read and use a screwdriver.
  3. a pretty helpful community forum
  4. low price–get 3 printrbot jrs. instead of 1 makerbot, for nearly the same price!
  5. open source–some guys at Makerbot used freely-shared open source hardware and software, closed it off, and made a mint off of selling their business and their product, which I consider Not Playing Nicely With Others. I won’t give them my money, and their product isn’t that much better anyway (i.e. breaks down just as much as printrbot). To be fair, read their take on open source.
  6. small footprint–takes up less than 3 sq. feet of table
  7. easy to use. fairly easy to fix.
  8. it prints PLA, the fairly non-toxic biodegradable plastic that ever-so-faintly smells of burned sugar, and is less horrible for the environment than ABS plastic.

The study cited in the Post says that PLA printers release “about 20 billion particles per minute,” which is  “similar to cooking on a gas or electric stove.”

First of all, I’m guessing most of our patrons cook on stoves, or are around such cooking, as are staff. Secondly, most of us will be placing our printers in rooms much larger than the average kitchen, with huge quantities of air circulating through. Thirdly, the printers, according to both my own experience and interviews are NOT going to be used every second of every day after the first rush. Put those facts together, and I wouldn’t be more concerned about emissions from the printer than I am about the cooking classes at the library, at least for the health of people who don’t spend 8 hours a day next to the printer.

filterBut for staff who are around constant printing, or in tiny spaces? I guess this could be an issue. Probably not, but maybe. In this case, get a HEPA filter (don’t know about this particular model, though it looks nice), and print on.

If you’re printing with ABS, get a bigger filter. I am no environmental scientist, but this issue doesn’t look like a deal-breaker to me.

EDIT: Fantastic discussion of PLA and ABS filaments here.

UPDATE: a new study!


first big problem for library makerspaces… least the first that I’ve encountered:

Stuff breaks.

And unlike your copier, computer, network, etc. there are no repair people to call. Or rather, YOU are the repair person. So when our brand-new printrbot jr. stopped moving up and down on the z-axis, I have to figure out how to fix it.

Yeah, I don’t know how to fix it. I know nothing of electronics, motors, or even the terminology to search for information on how to fix it. The forum is total chaos, with no useful subject headings or organization (as I noted on the forum, this is one reason librarians still exist).

Here is jittery, poorly filmed video of the printer carriage moving by hand, the motor spinning, the “all-drive” bolt wobbling a bit as it spins, as I tell the printer program, Repetier, to move the carriage on the z-axis:

Everything seems aligned the way it’s supposed to be. The motor is working. The x- and y-axes are fine.

Library school does not (yet) prepare one for this problem.


EDIT: the above photo shows the problem–the bolt is supposed to be trapped up inside that triangular housing. The LOVELY people on the chaotic Printrbot forum helped me! Thanks guys!

And here is the benefit of the library makerspace: when you figure out how to fix a problem you feel (or I do anyway) elated, powerful and like you have a new relationship with your stuff.