There have been a few attempts at developing 3D printers designed for use by children, but is this a wise thing to do?
At first, you’d think it would definitely be a good idea. Consider some of the positive effects this would have:
- Children would become accustomed to the idea of creating things, which they may carry forward into adulthood, becoming an entrepreneur perhaps, or at least being more self-sufficient
- Children could learn 3D modeling skills that should provide them with an important creative outlet that may lead to a future career
Yes, those are definitely very good things. But there is a darker side to children’s 3D printing that we should consider. Let’s consider some potential drawbacks.
Toxicity: Some 3D print materials are actually toxic, having used lead-based colorants, for example. Many 3D printer filaments are not FDA-approved, meaning you shouldn’t be putting them into your mouth, which some children may do. Even if older children were the 3D printer operators, their younger siblings may eat (or attempt to) some prints.
Nanoparticles: Most 3D printers, or at least the ones employing heat to melt plastics, emit quantities of nanoparticles. Unknowing parents might install a 3D printer for their child in a room that’s improperly ventilated, leading to an accumulation of airborne nanoparticles. Not good!
Mechanicals: 3D printers have moving parts and there are plenty of pinch hazards within a 3D printer. It’s awfully tempting for a curious child, and they may insert fingers or toes into improper places within a running 3D printer, leading to unpleasant surprises.
Heat: To melt plastic filament, 3D printers must raise the temperature of their hotend to oven-ready levels. There are often no barriers between this dangerous hotend and your child’s fingers. Damage may occur.
Repairs: 3D printers, particularly the less expensive versions, are mechanical machines that tend to break. Often it falls upon the owner to effect the repairs, and even for adults it is frequently beyond their ability to do the required repairs. How can we expect a child to take on this role?
Disappointment: Most inexpensive desktop 3D printers have horrifically bad success rates, even for those expert in running them. For novices, failure rates are even higher. In many cases we’ve seen adults abandon their 3D printer because they “couldn’t make it work”. We would expect children to have at least the same success rates, and if so, they may become disillusioned with the idea of attempting to make things themselves. This is in fact the opposite of the original goals above.
Instead of providing a child with a 3D printer, we strongly recommend giving them access to one with supervision and guidance. Access could be at a school, club, makerspace or even parentally supervised. If they can see someone safely operating and repairing a 3D printer, they will certainly become more accustomed to making things.
Image credit: Wikimedia