3D printing is booming. Their enormous growth has brought down costs, making them more affordable and easier to use. It won’t be long before they become an addition to most homes.
From its humble beginning in the early 80’s, 3D printing has a come a long way to now being used to print houses, car bodies, to even unmanned aircraft. What’s more is that it’s now even easier and cheaper to start 3D printing at home with your own 3D printer. The possibilities when you have your own 3D printer are about as limitless as your imagination.
Something broken at home and needs fixing? Print the part you need, with your own improvements.
Come up with a great solution to an everyday problem? Don’t let manufacturing it get in the way, build your prototype and test your idea out. You could launch an awesome new product from it.
Have your kids come up with a better idea for a toy? Encourage their creativity, print it out for them, and be the coolest parent around.
With 3D printers available costing as low as £120 from Amazon (requires assembly) the cost of getting into 3D printing is no longer a major barrier. I own my 3D printer at home and boy do I love having it so accessible. It’s not a surprise for the lady of the house to find me in hypnotic trance staring at the printer, watching something I dreamt up come to life. I still get a kick out of it…well, almost every time because before you dip your toes into the 3D printing pond there are a few things to know if you are thinking of getting into 3D printing at home.
- You will need to create the geometry files.
- They consume materials.
- It will take up space and can be bit of an eyesore.
- They make noise!
- They use electricity.
- They can be fiddly (and frustrating!)
Let’s talk about each point.
You will need to create the geometry files
So, you have imagined your ‘thing’ in your head. You’ll now need to create the geometry file on a computer. For the engineers and architects amongst us, this probably isn’t such a problem. Don’t worry If you’re not though as it has become a lot easier and affordable (free in some cases) to create your own files. A number of computer aided design (CAD) software packages exist on the market. Professional users who can afford the expensive license will often use software packages such as Autodesk Inventor (my personal favourite), Solidworks, and Creo to name a few. These are great for professionals willing to spend the time and effort needed to use these platforms. For the students out there, the Autodesk Education Community gives you access to their full suite of software for zip, zero, nada. If you don’t fall under this category, there are easier/cheaper alternative here are some options I recommend.
- SketchUp (https://www.sketchup.com/)
- Tinkercad (https://www.tinkercad.com)
- FreeCAD (https://www.freecadweb.org/)
SketchUp is a popular CAD programme that you can install directly onto your PC. It is easy to learn with an intuitive interface and an extensive library of ‘off the shelf’ bits and bobs which you can grab. Although it is a lot cheaper than full blown CAD packages, it isn’t free. Tinkercad on the other hand is a cloud-based CAD programme which is free. FreeCAD from what I hear from my engineering friends is another great software package and as the name suggest, it’s free!
Whichever CAD programme you decide on, online resources will be available to help you through the learning curve. For Autodesk Inventor and Solidworks, there are a ton of courses available from Udemy and similar online course providers which will get you started. As they are self-paced, instructor led, and cheap I highly recommend these. For everything else, google for help and I’m sure there will be a youtube video which will help =)
They consume materials
3D printing is an additive based process, meaning material is heated, ,melted, and then deposited as you make your part unlike machining which is a process of removing material from a block of material. To keep your 3D printing running, you will therefore need to purchase filament to suit your 3D printer. Filament from a 3D printer is typically available as a 300g or
1kg spool with a diameter of 1.75mm, although this will depend on the make or your 3D printer. The main consideration here is to decide on which material to print with. PLA is the most common and generally the easiest to print with. ABS is a popular option as it provides greater strength, but it requires higher temperatures and more therefore consumes more energy (more on this later). A good article on this topic can be found here (https://www.allthat3d.com/pla-vs-abs/). If you are starting out with 3D printing, I recommend using PLA initially. It is reasonably cheap (£10 for a 300g spool from RS/Amazon) and is much easier to print than ABS. It also doesn’t smell as bad/intense as ABS which is important to consider if you’re printing at home. On the flip side, PLA does not offer the same impact resistance as ABS and therefore more brittle than ABS. But for most applications, printing at home with PLA will do the job nicely. I print everything using PLA and find it meets all my needs for rapid prototyping and just having fun.
Here’s a little tip – keep your filament away from sunlight when being stored, and while you are printing. I initially kept my 3D printer next to a window which resulted in some degradation of the filament due to UV. If your 3D printer is near a window, try and keep sunlight away from the spool.
They take up space and can be unattractive in a home
The size of a 3D printer is essentially dependent on the maximum size it can print. For home use, a
common print size will be up around 150mm x 150mm x 150mm such as the Weistek 3D printer shown here.
When looking at lovely marketing images like this one, it’s hard not to be a little spellbound and think “what a beauty”, and “that doesn’t look so big!” but when you add the PC, power adaptors, cables, tools, a printing material, etc. it can turn into bit of a mess. Before you know it, you have something more like the photo below, taking up a lot of space which isn’t easy on the eyes. This can certainly be an issue for the co-inhibitors of the house.
This is one of the key issues we try to help with at inventapod. Our pods are designed to help keep your projects as compact and neat as possible, so you can keep the peace and keep creating. Our Large printer pod shown here can accommodate lots of 3D Printer sizes, store a PC/monitor, consumables, and tools in one conveniently enclosed space. Cables can be neatly fastened to its aluminium frame reducing cabling woes (a pet hate of mine!) When you are done, place the front cover onto the pod and goodbye mess! To find out more about the inventapod click here.
They make noise
Something you should be aware of is that 3D printers make noise. Servo motors are used to precisely move the extruder nozzle and the bed plate in three co-ordinates (x, y, z). Additionally. a fan is located at the extruder nozzle to cool the material as it is deposited onto the bed so that it can solidify as it is being layered. Combining all these factors, and the fact it can take hours to print your part, noise can be a real pain when your printing at home. But there are a few things you can do to help.
- Select a printer that is quiet
- Isolate or enclose your 3D printer
- Install vibration dampening measures
Some 3D printers are noisier than others by design. More ‘bare’ or exposed 3D printers will generally be noisier than others. Refer to the product specifications on the noise produced (given in decibels). As a tip, 3D printers that are predominantly metal made have the advantage of being more robust but do a poor job of dampening sounds. The Mod-T 3D printer shown on the right is predominantly plastic based which does a better job of absorbing those little vibrations and therefore quitter to run. The decision to purchase a 3D printer, however, needs to be based on multiple criteria, sound being just one of them.
If you are lucky enough to have a garage or separate room, place your 3D printer there if you can. If you don’t have a separate room, a simple and effective way of reducing the noise is to contain the noise in an enclosure which is one of the other reasons the Mod-T 3D printer is so quiet. If you decide to go this way and enclose your printer, make sure the enclosure is transparent, so you can keep an eye on the print. The approach of enclosing your printer will not only help reduce noise levels but also reduce heat losses from your 3D printer which is particularly useful if you are printing in ABS.
The PrinterPod by inventapod can be enclosed quickly using its magnetically couple front and top sheets providing an easy way of reducing noise and heat loss. To find out more, click here.
A slightly more technical way of reducing sound is to try and reduce vibrations as much as possible. Sound after all is the vibration of particles. One way to do this is to install soft rubber feet underneath your printer. If that seems like too much effort, try laying out a yoga mat underneath your printer (yes, some people say this works). Installing dampeners for the servo motors will also reduce noise at the major source.
And if all else fail, get yourself a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Although a good pair can cost as much as a 3D printer!
They consume electricity
3D printers will of course need electricity to run. Energy is needed to power its motors and cooling fan, and to heat the extruder. The extruder needs to be hot enough to melt the material being used (i.e. PLA, ABS, etc.), for PLA this temperature is around 200-215 degrees Celsius to be able to melt the material. For ABS it is slightly hgher at around 230 degrees but will also often need its plate to be heated. If you have your 3D printer coupled to a PC, you will also need to factor in their consumption. For most 3D printers, their electricity consumption isn’t too much at around 50-70W. I used a power meter which you can buy for £10 from Amazon to measure the total power from my 3DPrinterPod (3D printer, PC, and monitor) and consumption was only 70W
Here in Scotland, we pay around 0.13 £/kWh. So every hour, a 50W 3D printer will cost you a measly 0.0065 £. Definitely not a deal breaker!
They can be fiddly and frustrating
Prints looking like the image on the right can happen from time to time. Sometimes a little too often. How often depends on many factors including:
- The complexity of your part you are trying to print.
- The design and build of your printer
- The quality of the filament material used
- How well you look after your printer
But 3D printers on the market are becoming more and more reliable and easier to use thanks to improvements in the technology so it isn’t as bad as used to be. But things still do go wrong thanks too:
- Incorrect calibration of the printer. Before printing your part, it is important to set the right distance between the extruder nozzle and the print bed. Refer to the manual for your 3D printer to see how to do this specifically for your machine, but generally you want the nozzle to be about a business card thickness away from the bed.
- The first few layers don’t stick to the bed correctly. One of the most common problems we have 3D printing at inventapod is material peeling away from the bed like the photo shown here. To reduce the chance of this happening you can instruct the printing software to add a RAFT to the part, a thick layer of material that is first deposited onto the bed which your part is layered onto. This step is carried out during the slicing stage, where software is used to convert your geometry into instructions for your printer. This works well but will use more material and take longer to print. Something we do when we can to minimise this wastage is to apply a little glue from a glue stick onto the bed to help the first few layers stick to the bed. It works well for us so give it a try if you are having problems with this issue.
- The print bed isn’t level. Depending on the design of your printer, you may need to level the printing bed or platform. If the printing bed isn’t level, the distance between the extruder nozzle and bed will vary, and this isn’t good. It doesn’t need to be perfect but getting as close as possible is what you are aiming for. To help, your 3D printer might have a mode where it slowly moves in a pattern across the bed so you can watch and see if the there is much variation. If your prints are off, it might be worthwhile to check this out.
Some final comments
3D printing is alot of fun so please don’t let this post deter you from getting into 3D printing. The purpose of this post is just to make sure you are aware of some of the issues which can arise with 3D printing so you are not caught off guard.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try and get back to you! All the best from inventapod and keep creating!
About the Author
You can find out more about Faisal here.