Is it a good idea to include thermal fuses in a DIY 3D printer design?

  • 3D printing should be relatively safe, however, the inherent nature of 3D printers, with all of the heated parts, constitutes a fire risk. A well designed 3D printer should be designed to be as safe as possible, especially one used in the home... Yes, the recommendation is, when printing, to watch the 3D printer at all times and never leave a print unattended. However, with some print times lasting hours and days, this is not always feasible, nor practical. So, some inbuilt safety features should be included, to at least mitigate the risk of fire, to some extent.

    • Is the use of thermal fuses1,2 a good idea3?

    • Would you use more than one?

    • Where should one place a thermal fuse? Next to a particular component, or free standing, in the air, to get an average, rather than highly localised temperature?

    • Against which components should a thermal fuse be placed? There are a number of places to choose from, such as next to:

      • The hotend?

      • The heated bed?

      • The extruder?

      • Each of the stepper motors?

      • The power supply?

      • The RAMPS stepper motor drivers?

    • Of lesser import, which type should one use4, radial or axial?

    Common thermal fuses

    Has anyone added thermal fuses to their 3D printers? Or has anyone examined where the thermal fuses are placed in commercial 3D printer designs, if used at all?


    I have recently found myself having to repair rice cookers and fans in Thailand. In those, it is very often the thermal fuse (axial thermal fuses for the rice cookers and the square "radial" types for fans) that requires replacing, as they have blown before the device got hot enough to start a fire. This got me thinking about their use in a 3D printer.


    1 We are not talking about the standard, replaceable, thermo-fuse,or fuse, which blow upon a current surge, short-circuit, etc. These are thermal fuses that contain metal connector within them that melts (permanently) at a specific temperature (typically ~135°C), thereby breaking the circuit.

    2 Nor am I referring to resettable fuses (AKA PPTC, multifuse, polyfuse or polyswitch)

    3 Would a thermal fuse be preferable to thermal cut offs, in the case of fire?

    4 The thermal fuses used in rice cookers are the axial type, and in the motors of fans are the radial type.

    I've had a thermistor fail on a 24v printer that had a cartridge heater and it got hot enough to burn the kapton tape before I noticed it. My point here is I don't think watching or working with the current is a good way to go. Most heaters we use are capable of burning something by just leaving them on with the 5a they get. Sure you can find the right heater that won't exceed your temperature with full amperage and unlimited time but then the initial heat up will be terrible.

    Sorry, I read footnote 1 and missed the "not". Now that we are talking about those that melt I have other comments! Last time I looked I believe it was hard to find one that could handle hotend temperatures so mounting near the heater is not going to be possible, maybe further up the heat break but then you need to experiment. Most fires I believe come from the wiring, either at the bed or controller and that would be difficult to catch with a fuse unless it's already on fire. You would be better off using a smoke detector and shutting the power off and maybe a fuse near the hotend.

    @tjb1 - Good points about the wiring, hotend and placement of the fuse above the heat-break. When you say *shutting the power off*, how do you mean to do that? Automatically, via a smoke detector connected to a power switch? Or manually, upon hearing the alarm? Also, I take it that you mean a *thermal* fuse near the hotend (in your final clause). Would you like to make an answer out of your comment? However, admittedly, Tom's answer seems to cover most of the points, already... although any *additional* points would be most welcome...

    I never looked enough to see if you could get a smoke detector with a relay for power. I'm sure you could tap into one and hook a relay to the buzzer but now you're relying on your work so that's up to you. Yes at the end I mention the fuse on the hotend because I think that's the only place it may be useful and it will need to be placed far enough away from the heater that you don't exceed the fuse limit when taking the hotend to 200-300C. They usually have a holding temp much lower than the opening temp as well, one I seen has a holding of 200C but doesn't open until 240C.

    I see that you already accepted my answer. It is better to wait a few days, because questions with an accepted answer attract fewer new answers, and perhaps somebody else will write a better answer.

    @TomvanderZanden - You make a good point, and indeed I did used to hold back my acceptance. However, on one SE site, I can't remember which one, I was effectively _told_ to accept an answer after a matter of a few hours, and when I pointed out that I would rather wait to see if anything else was posted, I was then told that I can always change the accepted answer should a new and better answer comes along. The point they were trying to make, was to keep the unanswered queue short. It was a Beta site, but I can't remember which one... Whichever one it was, I don't frequent it much anymore.

    @TomvanderZanden - I have finally found the comment(s) that I was referring to about rapid acceptance of answers, see here

  • Whether you should use a thermal fuse or not depends on what other safety measures you've taken. You can't look at the safety features of a printer in isolation, you need to look at what other measures are in place.

    The main fire hazard in printers is unfortunately (still) the fact that some manufacturers use underrated connectors on their boards, and that some users put bare wires in screw terminals or use inadequate torque when tightening terminals. As the wire works itself loose, it starts arcing and burning the connector. A thermal fuse does not help in this situation (unless you place thermal fuses near all of the connectors, which is impractical). Instead:

    • Properly tighten screw terminals, check them, and consider using proper wire termination (crimp lugs).

    • Use strain relief on wires. Make sure wires don't rub against anything, and guide them so they do not bend in a tight radius. Since the extruder (or print bed) is constantly moving, those wires are subject to fatigue.

    • Make sure connectors (especially those for the heated bed) are rated for the current running through them, and solder wires directly to the board if necessary.

    Using a regular fuse may protect against wires shorting against each other should their insulation be damaged. Fuses are usually already integrated into the main board.

    Most firmwares include some variant of thermal runaway protection, a feature that monitors the heaters and shuts the printer down if it notices something gone wrong. This protects against:

    • The thermistor coming loose/reading incorrect values/etc...

    but not against:

    • Bugs in the firmware itself

    • Failure of the MOSFET

    Most printers use MOSFETs to switch power to the heating element. Unfortunately, when MOSFETs fail, they usually fail closed (i.e. conducting). This means that, even if the firmware detects something has gone wrong, it won't be able to do anything about it. Solid State Relays (TRIACs) can fail in the same way.

    To protect against this, mounting a thermal fuse (or resettable bimetallic switch*) on the heated bed may be a good idea. However, thermal fuses with ratings up to the operating temperature of a hotend do not appear to be available so this is not an option.

    Attaching the fuse physically to the part it is monitoring is the most reliable, but for instance with the hotend (if you wanted to protect it all) this might not be feasible to the high temperatures involved so you'd have to settle with monitoring the air temperature close by.

    Also consider thermal balancing. A thermal fuse is unnecessary if the component can not overheat to begin with. For instance, most MK2 heated beds struggle getting up to even 100C, so even with a shorted MOSFET they present no danger. However, if you have a powerful high wattage (mains-powered) heated bed, you should definitely install thermal protection.

    E3D supplies their hot ends with 25W, 30W and 40W heaters. The 25W heater is the safer choice, since it limits the maximum temperature the hot end can get to, while with the 40W heater you can reach higher temperatures (and reach them faster). Barring a very unlikely scenario in which simultaneously (1) the power supply fails and starts supplying excessive voltage and (2) the MOSFET and/or firmware fails, a heater that is sized appropriately to the load it is driving can never pose any danger.

    I don't think it's common to install thermal fuses on steppers, stepper drives or the power supply (which should have its own protection). For every possible location to place a thermal fuse, you can probably think up a failure mode in which that fuse would save the day, but at a certain point it just becomes overkill. The stepper drivers would likely burn out well before the steppers would get hot enough to pose a threat, and overheating of the stepper driver would probably (violently) destroy it but afterwards it should not pose any threat.

    Axial v.s. radial does not matter, just use whatever is convenient for your situation.

    * Note that some bimetallic switches short one of the leads to the (metal)
    case when tripped, which poses a danger, especially with mains-powered heaters.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM