3D Printing Technology Safety

A number of people have written to comment about the Thinking About 3D Printing Technology post. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn about this technology and some of your questions have taken me quite by surprise (I’ll address some of them later, after I have conducted more research). I always appreciate it when you make me think through the topics I post because the conclusions I reach often make great fodder for book topics.

The one question that didn’t take me by surprise was one of safety. After all, it’s important to know that the output you create is safe. At the time I wrote that post, there was little on the topic of safety, which is why I didn’t include any sort of safety information. A recent article entitled, “3D-Printed Medical Devices Spark FDA Evaluation” tells that the issue of safety is on a lot of other people’s minds as well. The problem for the FDA is that it can’t actually test a printed medical device in any meaningful way and still allow a hospital to use the device in a reasonable time frame (such as in an emergency room), so it allows use of these printed devices on the basis of similarity to devices it has tested thoroughly. In other words, the printed output must match an existing device, except that it provides a custom fit for a particular patient.

I thought about that article for quite some time. It seems to tell me that the FDA is reviewing the issue of safety, but hasn’t come to any final conclusions yet. What I’m trying to do is weigh articles like this one against other articles that decry the complexity and problems of using 3D printing technology. For example, 3D printing: Don’t believe the hype states outright that many of the plastics used for 3D printers aren’t even food safe. I’m assuming that the FDA requires hospitals that rely on this technology to use the correct, safe, materials. Even so, the article does make one wonder about the safety of the materials provided for consumer-level products. Not many people will be able to afford a hospital grade device.

Safety extends beyond the end product, however, and this is where a true scarcity of information occurs. For example, when you melt some plastics, the process produces Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN), which is an extremely dangerous gas. I thought it fortunate that I found an article on the topic entitled, “Is 3D Printing Safe?” The short answer to seems to be yes, 3D printing is relatively safe, but you’ll want to ensure you have proper ventilation when doing so.

This whole issue of safety does concern me because new technologies often have hidden safety issues that are later corrected after someone encounters them (usually with unfortunate results). Like any tool, a 3D printer isn’t a toy—it is a device for creating some type of specific output. For the most part, I’d recommend against letting children use such a device without parental supervision (preferably by a parent who has actually read the manual).  I’d like to hear more of your concerns about 3D printing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Many Hands Make Light Work

I’m not sure who first came out with this bit of wisdom, but it’s true. Dividing a task amongst many people does make the work a lot lighter. You get the task done a lot faster for a number of reasons, some obvious, some not. Of course, with multiple people doing the work, the task is completed faster and with less effort from each individual. The people working on the task can encourage each other and a gentle gibe can prompt less motivated individuals to work a bit harder. However, I’m not talking about a team here. Teams are organized and often rely on one really skilled person to carry other less skilled people along. What I’m talking about is a group of individuals, with relatively the same ability, getting together to accomplish a task without the usual trappings of the team environment. There truly is a difference.

I was reminded of this difference when I read the post of my friend Bill Bridges, entitled, “The Good Cheer Drive.” It’s precisely this sort of example that I’m thinking about when it comes to the expression, “Many hands make light work.” These people came together and in a dizzying array of disorganization managed to get food together for those who are less fortunate and need a bit of a helping hand during the holidays. There is no concept of team (and the associated ego) here—simply a group of people getting together for the common good. It sounds like my sort of event.

Self-sufficiency sometimes requires a touch of this sort of environment as well. Whenever I can, I try to get someone to help when I go into the woods. To do otherwise would be foolish. When I’m cutting wood, I fell old trees that no one is using (no animals or helpful insects have made the tree a home). The trees sometimes do unexpected things, especially when the crown is caught in the branches of another tree. If someone is there helping, they can at least go for help should a tree decide to fall on me. There is safety in numbers.

Trying to wrestle a large trunk is also quite an experience. It doesn’t take much tree to produce enough wood that it’s nearly impossible for even a well-muscled man to move it about. Since I don’t use any sort of heavy equipment, I have to rely on careful cutting techniques and the help of others to move some of these large trunks around. Most of the time, the time in the woods is spent with others who enjoy being out there as much as I do. We’re a group of individuals working together to get the wood down from the hill without disturbing other trees in the safest manner possible.

This year I’ve been relying on the help provided by a new friend, Cody. He’s been out at least once a week (and often twice) to help me get my wood in for winter. As a result, for the first time ever, I have almost all of the wood I need for the winter already stacked, and it isn’t even Christmas yet. Even Rebecca has been able to get out to help a little this year, so a number of us are involved in getting the wood done up. Many hands do indeed make for light work.


When you start your self-sufficiency effort, consider the need to help other people and to ask others to help you as needed. Yes, you do need to do as much as you can, but when there would be an immense risk in doing the work by yourself, look for those individuals who are willing to help. Make sure they get something out of it too. Exchange labor as you would exchange products (see my Sharing and Swapping Food post for details). The most important gift you can get out of the exchange is a friend you can rely on and believe me, they’re scarce in today’s world.

How do you work with others? Have you ever contributed toward a group effort of the kind I explore in this post? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.