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3D Printing for Kids: What Parents Need to Know & Is It Safe?

As 3D printing has become more accessible in recent years, we have started to see a wide range of industries adopting this versatile technology. With applications ranging from art and architecture to automotive and aerospace engineering, the uses for 3D printing seem to be endless – in fact, we believe it’s set to be the next industrial revolution!

3D printing could offer fantastic future career opportunities for your child. However, for many parents it’s still a mysterious subject. If you are a parent looking to introduce your child to this fascinating technology, here are a few things worth knowing first in our 3D printing for kids’ primer.

What is 3D printing?

3D printing is a technology that allows us to “print” 3D models using specialized software and equipment.

Depending on the industry and use, a printer can range from something small enough to keep on your computer desk, to a more specialized piece of equipment capable of printing metal parts for cars and planes.

Currently, the most popular materials for printing are plastic or resin. However, with recent developments in this rapidly growing technology, there are machines capable of printing with sandstone, paper, metal, or even ceramic.

How does 3D printing work?

There are several different techniques involved with 3D printing, which depends on the machine you buy and the material it uses.

Regardless of the machine, the first step involves creating the initial model on a computer. Typically, this involves sculpting the model with a specialized 3D modelling software, such as ZBrush, Blender or Maya. However, a model can also be picked out from an online database.

Once the model has been finished or selected, it can then be transferred to the printer.

Most 3D printers you can buy use a plastic filament, usually wrapped around a spool. The plastic is super-heated and then ejected from a maneuverable nozzle that is controlled by the computer.

Building from the bottom up, the printer will create the model one layer at a time, in a process that is called “additive manufacturing.”

Depending on the complexity and size of the model, a print can take hours or even days to complete.

What are the applications for 3D printing?

The potential applications for 3D printing seem to be endless. Although most machines only print with a plastic filament, recent developments mean that some printers are capable of printing with metal, ceramics, paper, wood, wax, or sandstone.

As a result, 3D printing has found applications in a wide assortment of industries, ranging from art to engineering.

Concerning the production of dental products, this technology has been revolutionary. It has allowed for cheaper, faster, and more accurate production of crowns, braces, dental implants, and dentures.

We’ve even seen some creative people using this technology to print cheaper alternatives where medical prosthetics or aligners were too expensive.

Recent developments of 3D printing with metal have found uses in aerospace manufacturing. Companies such as NASA and Rolls Royce have been successfully using this technology to print parts for engines and to refine their designs further.

Additionally, 3D printing has become a popular option for producing architecture models. Historically, architects would painstakingly create replica models with wood or foam, but 3D printing allows for accurate and detailed models in a fraction of the time.

Aside from the above, here are some of the other ways that 3D printing is being used:

  • Eyewear
  • Prosthetics
  • Theatre and movie props
  • Interior design and furniture
  • Automotive engineering
  • Paleontology and archaeology (reconstructing relics and bones)
  • Forensics and police work (reconstructing damaged evidence)

As a kid, 3D printing can be a fantastic way to unleash creativity. Allowing for the production of anything from toys and art to custom prosthetics, it seems that the only limit to this technology is their imagination.

Is 3D printing safe for kids?

When it comes to 3D printing for kids, several safety considerations must be taken into account.

As a part of the printing process, some printers will release small particles of plastic release into the air. Not only is the harmful to breathe in, but it can aggravate conditions for people with asthma or other breathing difficulties.

Two other health concerns involve the moving parts and the heated nozzle. Just like any other piece of machinery with moving parts, there is a risk of trapping body parts, articles of clothing, or hair.

Additionally, the nozzle of the printer can exceed 260°c, and if touched, can cause severe burns.

With this in mind, children should never be left unattended when the printer is in operation.

Hi Martyn, is all the above a bit too scary? I don’t know what your operation is like, so does this need some caveats?

If you choose to buy a printer that is not fully enclosed, the printer will need to be kept in a well-ventilated room, such as a garage.

Once the printer is in operation, it’s best to avoid gathering around the device to watch the process, to avoid breathing in any particles. Instead, you can set up a webcam to allow your kids to watch the full process if they’re interested.

In addition to this, it will also be important to:

  • Get your kids to wash their hands after every use of the printer.
  • Keep the surrounding area clean. To avoid creating any airborne particles, you can use a damp cloth.
  • Avoid eating, drinking, chewing gum, or handling contact lenses around the machine while it’s printing.
  • Keep a window or door open while printing if you can.
  • Use gloves and safety goggles when handling the printer.
  • Inspect the printer before every use. If it looks damaged, or if you notice any exposed wiring, do not use the printer.

Best 3D printers for children

When it comes to introducing 3D printing to children, several factors need to be taken into account. Aside from the cost, you will need to take the design and size into consideration, as well as the type of plastic it uses.

If you want your children to use the printer, it’s worth choosing a machine that isn’t too heavy. A large, heavy printer can be a potential hazard if your child tries to move it at any stage.

A fully enclosed printer is also preferable, as this will help to reduce any airborne particles from spreading throughout the room throughout the printing process.

Additionally, you will need to look at the type of plastic the printer uses. If you want to make toys and gadgets that your children can use, ABS and PLA are considered to be the safest plastics for kids.

ABS is the same plastic used to make LEGO bricks. This is a durable plastic that is easy to print with, and strong enough to be used outdoors.

PLA is a non-toxic bioplastic. As this plastic is eco-friendly, it will break down over time if left out in the elements. However, it is also odourless, easy to print with, and resistant to warping.

Here are some of the most popular 3D printers currently available for children:

  • ANYCUBIC Photon
  • QIDI TECHNOLOGY 3D Printer
  • FlashForge 3D Printer Creator Pro

If you’re still gauging your kid’s interest and don’t want to take the plunge on an expensive piece of tech just yet, a 3D pen might be a good alternative.

Here are two good options if this is something you’re considering:

  • 3Doodler Create 3D Pen
  • MYNT3D Professional Printing 3D Pen

With appropriate care and supervision, 3D printing is a fantastic technology to introduce to your children. Not only does it encourage creativity, but it will also give them a head start on learning a technology that is quickly becoming an integral part of several industries.

FunTech 3D Printing camps for kids

We offer 3D modelling and printing courses which are held in a safe and secure environment for your children. It’s the ideal opportunity to introduce them to 3D printing for kids, with camps running over the school holiday periods.

Our kids’ 3D printing camps run from Monday to Friday at locations in and around the UK and London.

Applying industry standard techniques, from 3D extrusions to 3D digital sculpting, your child will transform a simple geometric cube into a model created from their imagination. Along the way they will learn tips, techniques, and associated best practices for 3D Modelling. *There will be a 3D printer on site for all students to experiment and experience the process of 3D printing.

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