3D printing is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. There is hardly any business that does not have a use for 3D printing and that is thanks to the versatility of 3D printers. 3D printers offer an incredible variety in size, range, printing material, and speed.
However, all this variation can be intimidating for newcomers and that is perfectly fine. In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of 3D printing, and we are going to uncover all the aspects related to 3D printers.
Hopefully, by the end, you’ll have a firm idea of what 3D printing is and how does it work.
Now to the most important question. How often do 3D printers need a break? The answer is never. Just like any other machine, 3D printers can run for days on end without any breaks. However, the printer does need a continuous supply of material and electricity for that to happen. There are occasional maintenance breaks, but if you have a workflow that is properly optimized, there is no reason why your printer should not be printing 24/7.
On a side note! If you’re looking for a reliable and high-quality 3D printer, we highly recommend the Official Creality Ender 3 V2 Upgraded 3D Printer (Amazon Link).
This printer is an upgraded version of the popular Ender 3 model, with a range of new features and improvements that make it even easier and more convenient to use.
There are of course many other factors that determine a printer’s ability to print perpetually. You have to take ventilation and cooling into account, you have to set up a workflow that is not dependent on human input to continue printing, and you have to continuously feed the printer with material, so that can print for as long as possible.
For more relevant information on 3D Printing and equipment, check out How To Reduce 3D Printers Noise Hacks! Best Sound Absorbing Filament and Is Your 3D Printer Nozzle Worn Out? Sign, Impact, Causes & How To Clean It
How Does a 3-D Printer Work?
It is important to know how a 3D printer works before we can optimize it to run for an extended period. So, let’s briefly look at how a 3D printer works.
3D printers are very easy to understand in principle. Just imagine a regular printer that prints a shape multiple times on top of itself to make it 3D. For instance, a square, if printed over itself multiple times over, would become a cube. It essentially gives volume to shapes and makes them 3 dimensional.
In reality, the process is much more complex than this, but in theory, the working principle is essentially the same. Due to the printhead’s ability to dynamically change its path, you can build complex shapes as well.
So, if you start with a circle and keep reducing its diameter, you will eventually end up with a dome. This results in a limitless array of possibilities and shapes that the printer can produce. This is further enhanced by the variety of materials available for printing.
How to effectively maintain a 3D printer?
A 3D printer needs regular maintenance for it to operate for longer periods. Maintenance may include cleaning, lubricating, and inspection of various components of the 3D printer.
It is also essential to carry out preventative repairs and replacement of parts to ensure that the printer works efficiently and safely. (We’ll talk more about safety later.)
One of the most important aspects of maintenance is its regularity. It may vary between users but generally, there are two ways to do it.
One is periodic maintenance. You set a specific time (maybe a week, two weeks, or a month) after which you carry out all the maintenance, regardless of how much the printer was used in that time frame.
The second one is run-time maintenance. You keep track of how much work the printer has done (its run-time) and after a specific time, you maintain the printer. This approach is much more effective, as it saves costs and does not warrant unnecessary repairs.
The specific steps for maintenance are beyond the scope of this article but keep an eye out on 3dprintschooling.com, as we have a post coming soon just for that.
What components do you need to make a 3D printer work?
There are several different parts required to make a 3D printer work. First of all, you need housing for the printhead and slides on which the head is mounted. Secondly, you need a bedplate on which the projects are printed.
Next, you need supply lines and feeder tubes that supply material to the printhead. These are pipes are usually flexible and they move along with the printhead so that the printer can layer the material on the bedplate.
As for the material itself, you have a multitude of choices. This is where the versatility of the technology truly shines. There is a great variety of materials that have been successfully used in 3D printing. These include metals, concrete, polymers, plastics, wood pulp, and carbon fiber among others.
These materials are sold in different forms. They may be in a solid-state (usually in spools of varying wire thickness). When the wire reaches the printhead, a heating element melts the material and adheres it to the layer below.
Liquid state materials are also common. They are transported using feeding tubes (and a pump) to the printhead, and at the tip of the head an accelerator is mixed with the material solidifies it, and bonds it with the layer below.
Obviously, the printer (especially the printhead) needs to be modified for different materials, but the general working principle stays the same.
To operate the printer, you need a computer with CAD software (like SOLIDWORKS). You can design your own projects, or you can find designs online and modify them. A wide range of software now supports optimization for 3D printing and project files can seamlessly be exported to the printer for printing.
Do 3D printers need fire protection and ventilation?
The answer is yes. Like every other machine, 3D printers also carry inherent risks if they are operated improperly, and users must follow necessary precautions to ensure safety.
Ventilation is a key aspect in making sure that 3D printers operate safely. 3D printing setups may require to be ventilated in multiple ways.
Firstly, the whole enclosure needs to be ventilated to ensure that all harmful gases are removed during the melting and bonding process. Ventilation also helps with faster setting times for the materials.
Secondly, the printhead may also need to be cooled (especially in printers where the material needs to be melted at the tip), to ensure that the head remains at a suitable operating temperature.
Apart from ventilation, there are also passive ways to ensure that fire risks are minimized. For instance, spools of raw materials should always be stored in separate, sealed boxes and printers should never be left unsupervised for an extended period of time during operations.
The steps above, in addition to regular fire mitigation techniques (like sprinklers and fire extinguishers), ensure that 3D printers operate in a safe environment and that the users are not at risk.
Versatility of 3D printers
3D printers can range anywhere from small hobbyist models to full-scale construction printers. The fundamentals of the technology stay the same, it’s just that the size and scale of the resulting product change drastically.
While a domestic printer may be used to create small scale projects like tools and toys, larger commercial printers can print actual houses.
For instance, this printer by Apis Cor can be easily transported onsite to construct walls and structural members of houses.
Many commercially available units on the market can be used for large scale applications and as the technology matures, we can only expect to see an influx of printers like these in the market.
But what if you are not a real estate developer and only want a small printer for domestic use. Well, you are in luck, because there are several printers available for you to buy. Their popularity has fueled competition and that has helped bring the prices down as well.
Depending on the type and size of the printer, it can cost anywhere from 300 to 5000 USD. This price variation also determines the printing volume. A higher price usually equates to the printer being able to print a larger object and vice versa.
So, depending on your needs, you can choose to buy a printer that best suits your needs and don’t worry, there is a wide variety for you to choose from.
If you are still confused, check out this great article that breaks down the pricing of 3D printers in much greater detail.
3D printing is an exciting technology that has a lot of potential. Widespread acceptability will result in printers getting cheaper and more accessible to more people. This will allow more people to make unique creations and that is a prospect that excites the maker inside me.