New Research Sheds Light on 3D Printing Fumes

A few years back, there were some studies on the chemical and particle emissions coming out of the hotends of 3D printers. Although they galvanized a lot of people in the community, the science wasn’t entirely conclusive — one paper made it sound like you needed a hazmat suit for 3D printing, and the other suggested that cooking a meal in a kitchen was worse for you. That’s because they were measuring different things.

This new research paper on the emissions of 3D printers covers all the bases. They examined a variety of different materials printed in different printers. They also measured both chemical emissions and Ultrafine Particles (UFP) which can be hazardous even when the material itself is not.

We read the paper (PDF) so that you don’t have to. Here’s our takeaways:

  • 3d_printer_particles.pngThere was no significant variation across brands of 3D printers. (Duh?)
  • ABS and similar materials outgas styrene at levels you should probably be worrying about if you’re running your printer for a few hours a day in an unventilated office.
  • PLA emitted significantly less overall, and most of it was a non-hazardous chemical, lactide. PLA doesn’t look like a problem.
  • All of the materials resulted in increased UFP exposure. These levels are above normal household background levels, but lower than certain “microclimates” which (if you follow the references) include principals’ offices with carpet, automobiles, restaurants, and rooms with burning candles or running hair dryers. In short, the UFP exposure doesn’t look like it’s going to be a big deal unless you’re sitting right next to the printer and running it continually.

So what would we do? It now looks like it’s prudent to print ABS only in a well-ventilated room. Or enclose the printer in a box and vent whatever you can outside — which can also help prevent breezes cooling the piece down unevenly and adding to ABS’s warping problems. Or just stick to PLA. It looks essentially harmless.

Thanks [Jim Scheitel] for the tip!

Nanotech Makes Safer Lithium Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries typically contain two electrodes and an electrolyte. Shorting or overcharging the battery makes it generate heat. If the temperature reaches about 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius), the electrolyte can catch fire and explode.

spikesThere have been several attempts to make safer lithium-ion cells, but often these safety measures render them unusable after overheating. Stanford University researchers have a new method to protect from overheating cells that uses–what else–nanotechnology graphene. The trick is a thin film of polyethylene that contains tiny nickel spikes coated with graphene (see electron micrograph to the right).

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Powerful Crossbow is Almost Entirely 3D Printed

As it turns out, it’s not feasible to print an entire crossbow yet. But [Dan]’s crossbow build does a good job of leveraging what a 3D printer is good at. Most of the printed parts reside in the crossbow’s trigger group, and the diagrams in the write-up clearly show how the trigger, sear and safety all interact. Particularly nice is the automatic nature of the safety, which is engaged by drawing back the string. We also like the printed spring that keeps the quarrel in place on the bridle, and the Picatinny rail for mounting a scope. Non-printed parts include the aluminum tubes used in the stocks, and the bow itself, a composite design with fiberglass rods inside PVC pipe. The video below shows the crossbow in action, and it looks pretty powerful.

Actually, we’ll partially retract our earlier dismissal of entirely 3D-printed crossbows, but [Dan]’s version is a lot more practical and useful than this model. And for a more traditional crossbow design, check out this entirely hand-made crossbow.

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What Can Happen When You Do Try This At Home

In somewhat of a countdown format, [John McMaster] looked back over the last few years of projects and documented the incidents he’s suffered (and their causes) in the course of doing cool stuff.

[John] starts us off easy — mis-wiring and consequently blowing up a 400V power supply. He concludes “double-check wiring, especially with high power systems”. Other tips and hazards involve situations in which we seldom find ourselves: “always check CCTV” before entering the experiment chamber of a cyclotron to prevent getting irradiated. Sounds like good advice.

hotplate[John] also does a lot of IC decapping, which can involve both heat and nasty acids. His advice includes being ready for large spills with lots of baking soda on hand, and he points out the need to be much more careful with large batches of acid than with the usual smaller ones. Don’t store acid in unfamiliar bottles — all plastics aren’t created equal — and don’t store any of it in your bedroom.

The incidents are listed from least to most horrible, and second place goes to what was probably a dilute Hydrofluoric acid splash. Keyword: necrosis. First place is a DIY Hydrochloric acid fabrication that involves, naturally, combining pure hydrogen and chlorine gas. What could possibly go wrong?

Anyway, if you’re going to do “this” at home, and we know a bunch of you are: be careful, be protected, and be prepared.

Thanks [J. Peterson] for the tip!

Killed by a Machine: The Therac-25

The Therac-25 was not a device anyone was happy to see. It was a radiation therapy machine. In layman’s terms it was a “cancer zapper”; a linear accelerator with a human as its target. Using X-rays or a beam of electrons, radiation therapy machines kill cancerous tissue, even deep inside the body. These room-sized medical devices would always cause some collateral damage to healthy tissue around the tumors. As with chemotherapy, the hope is that the net effect heals the patient more than it harms them. For six unfortunate patients in 1986 and 1987, the Therac-25 did the unthinkable: it exposed them to massive overdoses of radiation, killing four and leaving two others with lifelong injuries. During the investigation, it was determined that the root cause of the problem was twofold. Firstly, the software controlling the machine contained bugs which proved to be fatal. Secondly, the design of the machine relied on the controlling computer alone for safety. There were no hardware interlocks or supervisory circuits to ensure that software bugs couldn’t result in catastrophic failures.

The case of the Therac-25 has become one of the most well-known killer software bugs in history. Several universities use the case as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong, and how investigations can be lead astray. Much of this is due to the work of [Nancy Leveson], a software safety expert who exhaustively researched the incidents and resulting lawsuits. Much of the information published about the Therac (including this article) is based upon her research and 1993 paper with [Clark Turner] entitled “An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents”. [Nancy] has since published updated information in a second paper which is also included in her book.

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Retrotechtacular: Robots, Robots Everywhere, with Kitschy Pronunciation

One of the great things about the human intellect is that we have the ability to build machines of varying complexity to do our bidding. As a major proponent of technology, the Chevrolet automobile corporation once dreamed of a future where the American housewife’s most mundane tasks are handled with the push of a button—one that sets a robot butler into action.

Chevy shows us what this future might look like in this short film, which they presented at the 1940 World’s Fair. A housewife’s faithful ‘robot’, pronounced throughout the picture as ‘robe-it’, has gone on the fritz. Naturally, she calls for a repairman. We see from the console controller that Roll-Oh the Robe-it can take care of all kinds of housewifely duties: he can answer the door and the phone, wash dishes, clean house, make beds, fetch hats, get dinner, and fix the furnace (and only the furnace). And that SCRAM! function? That’s never explained. We like to think it has to do with getting kids off the lawn, or could be used in conjunction with ‘get door’ to chase away would-be burglars. We get a glimpse of this when Roll-Oh answers the door and scares the daylights out of a young [Gary Sinise*] delivering flowers in a cop uniform.

Roll-Oh’s upper limbs have several Swiss Army knife-like implements in them. He uses a sharp one to cut the ribbon off of the flower box. Upon seeing the flowers, he gives them a gentle misting with his sprayer attachment. Dropped petals are no problem for Roll-Oh. He promptly vacuums them up from the thin industrial sound stage carpet with his big metal feet. Roll-Oh is then tasked with getting dinner. This amounts to him painstakingly opening a couple of cans and lighting candles with the torch hidden in his face.

While Roll-Oh the large ductwork butler is only a dream, Chevy wants you to know that smaller robe-its are all around us already. They’re regulating the heat in our stoves, browning our bread without burning it, and brewing our coffee in cool double-globe glass percolators. These tiny servants are capable of performing other tasks, like shutting off machinery when humans are too close, or sensing heat and engaging fire suppression systems. There is brief mention of something called the Petomat, an automatic dog feeding system which is essentially a bowl of food hidden in a latched box. The latch opens rather violently when the alarm clock connected to it goes off.

Robe-its are also performing more serious tasks, like keeping airplanes level and headed in the right direction. Of course, they’re also abundant in Chevrolet automobiles. A small one in the carburetor administers the proper mix of “gasoline calories and fresh air vitamins” to the engine. It’s rare to get to this level of technical detail, you know. Others watch over the spark, the intake manifold, and the voltage regulation. Up in the cab, friendly robe-its will happily traverse the AM dial at the push of a pre-set.

*Probably not actually [Gary Sinise].

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Robots, Robots Everywhere, with Kitschy Pronunciation”

Caption CERN Contest – Safe Science Is No Accident

Week 18 has faded into history, but not before you wrote some great captions! A hearty thanks to all the entrants. Astute reader [jlbrian7] has done it again! He’s uncovered the story behind this image. The woman in this photo is manually analyzing photographs of charged particles taken in a bubble chamber. He linked to an article from Fermilab, and to a 1971 film about Gargamelle, CERN’s largest bubble chamber at the time. The film is well worth a watch. It’s aimed at the layman, explaining the design, construction, and operation of bubble chambers. The photo scanning section starts at 14:40. The video has plenty of “1970’s-isms”, such as referring to the women analyzing the photographs as “scanning girls”. The filmmaker even bookend the section with an actual scanned girl – a possibly NSFW (by today’s standards) ASCII art printout of a nude pin-up model, as printed by a Control Data Corporation supercomputer.

The Funnies:

  • “Tabatha, the dungeon master, plots tonight’s dungeon and dragons game inside the exploded atom.”- [LloydTCannonIII]
  • “CERN, the only place you can watch Netflix on the same table that you eat lunch and plot global domination. Muwahahaha!” – [Joshua]
  • “They take Kerbal Space Program very serious at CERN. Here you can see the first interactive real time orbital view display.” – [haxtormoogle]

This week’s winner is [Jarrett] with “Friday night is Missile Command night in the lab. It’s a serious event”

We’re giving away two prizes this week – one to [jlbrian7] for his research on this and other CERN images, and one to [Jarrett] for his winning caption! Congrats to both of you. Enjoy your Logic Pirates From The Hackaday Store!

Week 19

cern-19-smJust about every workplace has to worry about safety. Many companies have a safety team that is trained to handle emergencies and help patients until proper medical technicians arrive. In a typical office environment this training is pretty easy, but what if you’re working on the bleeding edge of science? CERN’s safety team trains for everything, including badly burned hands and partially removed eyeballs. Don’t worry, these are just simulated injuries, which is probably why this CERN scientist is so calm, even smiling for the photo! CERN’s medical room also appears to be well stocked – with a full skeleton, and no less than four different types of fire extinguishers.

So, even though we already have a pretty good idea of what is going on in this photo (and the accompanying album), we’re sure you’ll come up with some great captions. Have at it!

This week’s prize is a Lightblue Bean from The Hackaday Store. Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself (or on this post).

As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.

Good Luck!