Materials and Safety

How to safely investigate new materials within the context of the Fab Lab.
Alternative Materials
Reusing & Recycling

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

What is a MSDS?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that provides health and safety information about products, substances or chemicals that are classified as hazardous substances or dangerous goods.
An MSDS should provide information on the following:
  • The Manufacturer or importing supplier.
  • The product's name, ingredients and properties.
  • How the product can affect people's health.
  • Precautions for using or storing it safely.

When do I have to supply a MSDS?

If you are supplying your own material to be processed at the Fab Lab, our technicians may ask you to provide a MSDS if the material is out of the ordinary. They will need to check that it is safe to either laser cut or CNC mill before accepting your material.

Where can I find a MSDS?

Manufacturers and importers of dangerous goods and hazardous substances must prepare an MSDS for each of their products. You should be able to find the MSDS for your material on the manufacturer's website or contact your supplier.

Do you have an example MSDS so I know what to look for?

Example MSDS for PVC material

Example Scenario

Natural, Found & Recycled material.

You're making a furniture piece for ExLab. The desired material for your project is a piece of salvaged hardwood. You want to use the CNC Router to mill it.
Before you spend time and money obtaining timber, collect as much information as possible about the condition and origin of the piece you're interested in. Compose an email including, but not limited to:
  • Species of timber.
  • Known issues - does it contain metal parts from its previous use? has it been treated with any chemicals that you are aware of?
  • It's previous use, if known (e.g, train track sleeper).
  • It's dimensions.
  • Your intended use/process for machining, in this case CNC router.
  • A photograph.
The exact nature of the information in your email should be specific to the material. Fab Lab staff may reply to your initial inquiry requesting more information.
Should the initial request be approved, conditions may be applied. For this example, conditions might be:
  • Visual inspection required before final okay.
  • Specific PPE or other controls may need to be adhered to.

Alternative Materials

The Fab Lab machines have the ability to process a variety of materials beyond what is stocked. Students are welcome to process approved alternative materials. Alternative materials must be evaluated and approved by Fab Lab management to ensure the safety of students, staff and machines.

What are alternative materials?

There are two categories of non-standard materials which must be assessed by Fab Lab staff.
  • Alternative manufactured products.
  • Natural/Found/Recycled materials.
Before purchasing non-standard or alternative material, follow the assessment process. You should only purchase material after you have been granted approval by Fab Lab management.

Material assessment process

Alternative manufactured materials

  1. 1.
    Acquire the correct Safety Data Sheet from the manufacturer.
  2. 2.
    Email the MSDS to [email protected] and request a review.
  3. 3.
    Wait for review and response... this may take several days.
  4. 4.
    If approved, it is safe to use your material in the Fabrication Workshop.
  5. 5.
    If submitting an alternative material for processing by laser cutting or cnc, provide a test piece.

Natural, found, and recycled materials

The assessment of these materials is highly specific to the type of material and the intended use or application. Fab Lab staff will make an assessment based on experience and risk; always prioritizing the safety of staff and students, as well as to equipment.
  1. 1.
    Assemble a brief summary of the item, including photographs and material research. This will form an initial assessment. Also include a brief outline of your project and how you intend to use the material. Email the MSDS to [email protected] and request a review.
  2. 2.
    Once this is approved, organize to bring in the item for a further assessment and visual inspection.
  3. 3.
    If approved, it is safe to use your material in the Fabrication Workshop.

Test material

When you have approval and are ready to purchase material, you will need to supply an extra piece of material that can be used to develop machine settings to ensure the best outcome for your job.
Test piece of slate for engraving. If you are unsure about a material, speak to Fab Lab staff.

What can I recycle?

Recyclable Fab Lab materials

  • Ivory Card
  • Optix Card
  • Mountboard
  • Boxboard
  • Perspex
  • Polypropylene
  • Aluminium
  • Mild Steel
  • Stainless Steel
  • Brass

Non-Recyclable materials

  • MDF
  • Luan Ply
  • Structural Ply
  • Bamboo
  • Polystyrene
  • Alucobond

Where can I recycle?

The Maker Spaces have a variety of waste services engaged to help organise our waste and promote recycling. Understanding where to put your waste is important for helping us maintain this. Please familiarise yourself with our waste and bin system. Please note these services are for Maker Space and fabrication related activities and not personal waste.
  • Red bins - General Waste This is for anything that can't be recycled and is not too large. The bin is found outside near the Workshop external doors. The small black bins around the Maker Spaces are usually emptied into the General Waste.
  • Blue bins - Paper This is for paper and cardboard products. The bin is found outside near the Workshop external doors.
  • Yellow bins - General recycling This is for recyclable materials that do not fall into the other recycling bin categories. The bin is found outside near the Workshop external doors.
  • Blue Metal Bin - Construction Waste This is anything that can't be recycled and is too large for the general waste bin. The bin is found outside near the Workshop external doors.
  • Grey Metal Bin - Metal Recycling This is for recycling metal. The bin is found outside near the Workshop external doors.
Waste Disposale Bins

What's worth saving?

Most of the time when you submit a job you have some of the sheet left over. The percentage of usable space left is largely based on how much you cut, and how well you nest. Utilising these left overs is a great way to reduce how much material you use, and can even save you money on material.
But what is actually worth saving to use later? It is important to think about your subject and project needs in answering this. Will you be making another model later that semester? Do you plan to make it by hand or digital fabrication? Could you share the leftovers with a friend or someone else in your studio? Could you donate it? Can the material be easily recycled?

Reusing material for laser cutting

For a sheet to be processed on the laser cutter it has to be at least A4 size. This is to stop the material from being blown around or moved during cutting. If you intend to keep your sheet for cutting again later, its a good idea to keep the sheet intact instead of cutting out the useful pieces. This way the sheet maintains enough surface area to be processed. See Material Options for more information on how to set up previously cut material.
In the Fab Lab Model Making Space we also have a rack of shelves where used material with enough usable space is returned by students who no longer require is stored. This material is free to any student wishing to lower their material costs and minimize our impact on the environment with unnecessary waste.

When material becomes unusable

Material is unable to be used for later cutting if it is too small. Generally, if it is smaller than A4 size it is most likely unusable for laser cutting.
Material also becomes unusable if it becomes contaminated. Contamination includes surfaces covered in other materials/chemicals (e.g. paint, glue, dirt, etc.), soaked materials, disfigured or damaged sheets, and anything that may cause damage to the machines or staff during processing.
If you are unsure if your material is suitable, please contact staff before submitting a job.

Alternative methods for reusing materials

You may also consider how else you could reuse your materials using alternative methods. For example, a staff project included grinding and re-casting dis-used paper from student exhibitions to make solid wall panels. Getting creative and trying to think outside the box can be a great way of getting more from your materials.
The Maker Spaces staff have a wealth of knowledge and experience in experimenting and working with new materials. Come in and talk to us to discuss your ideas.

Archicle @ Unimelb

Archicle is a group founded by MSD students that provide a service for recycling and sharing materials amongst students. They accept donations of materials (or may even buy materials from you providing on what you have) and then hold a semesterly material marketplace to sell cheap materials to students. To find out more and how to donate your materials visit: