3D Printing Lessons Learned

I’ve been working with a desktop 3D printer for the past four months and am using it to create some robotic components, gears and custom scaffolds to house electrical components.  There are a lot of little things that are involved in printing a quality object.  Here is a list of lessons I have learned over the past little while.

  • DO NOT KEEP YOUR HOT END HEATING WITHOUT PUSHING FILAMENT THROUGH IT!  This is the number one mistake I made when I first started printing.  If the filament is not moving through the hot end when it is heated up, the hot end will cook the filament, turning it into a burnt, hard little ball.  This will clog your hot end and no filament will get pushed through.  A clogged hot end is a major pain to fix…so don’t go there.
  • Keep you filament dry.  If your fillament is out-of-the-bag, then it is likely absorbing moisture.  When it heats up you will hear little ‘pops’ and this is the moisture evaporating from the filament.  This will create gaps in your print.
    • If you are printing with ABS you need to have a heated print bed.  I find 90 degrees is a great temperature.
  • To avoid warped prints, print on glass that is covered with purple washable School Glue, but Elmers.  I tried so many different techniques to print non-warping objects, it was driving me crazy.  I searched all over the internet trying different techniques without success.  My brother finally suggested using glass and the Elmer’s glue and it worked perfectly.  A bonus with this is that when the glass reaches about 0 degrees, you will hear a big ‘pop’!  This is the abs popping off of the glass!  It makes it really easy to remove the object after printing.

IMAG0982  IMAG0978 IMAG0980 IMAG0981  IMAG0977

  • Measure your filament with a digital caliper.  The manufacturer may have a measurement on the box, but your filament may not have a consistent diameter, and having the wrong diameter setting in your hardware can result in poor prints.
  • Make sure you are printing manifold objects.  Think of an object as a piece of oragami.  It has to be able to (conceivably) be unfolded like a piece of paper in order for the slicer to work properly.  I have created a number of objects that were non-manifold and ran into problems printing them before I realized how important having manifold objects are.
  • Avoid trying to manipulate objects during a print or working on objects that are on the print bed.  This can lead to a warped z-axis on your printer.  If you warp your z-axis it is a pain in the !#@ to fix!
  • Know your printers limits!  Print test objects to figure out your printer’s abilities.  This will save you a lot of time and frustration by realistically understanding the ability of your printer.  You will know what you can and cannot print.
  • At the time of this post, over the last week we have had a significant change of weather.  Coincidentally, I have not printed anything over the past week.  I just tried to print a robotics component only to realize after 15% of the print job, there was no way it would print properly; so I cancelled the print.  Here are my thoughts…
    • The weather change increased the moisture in the air; which in turn increased the width of my filament (because it absorbs moisture over time).
    • I had also moved some items around in my office.  As spring in approaching I had found myself a bit itchy – so rearranged my office.  The shift in position and more importantly, the level of the printer might have a factor on the print.
    • I think the most important, and likely the most relevant factor is that I actually stopped printing stuff.  It might sound weird, but the inactivity of my printing may have allowed the extruder, flow tube and hot end to solidify ABS plastic.  I only suggest this because when I took it all apart, and heated it up with a blow-torch; I was shocked to see all of the stuff come out of the flow chamber.
      • If you are experiencing flow issues, then you should definitely take your hot-end/extruder assembly apart and heat all the elements up with a torch – and then push the ‘crap’ out of the ends.
      • I know this might sound scary because you just spent a bunch of money on your printer – but you need to know how to maintain it if you want to complete any projects that have advanced levels of sophistication.