3D Printing: More Lessons Learned

3D Printing: More Lessons Learned

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A couple months ago, I wrote about the beginning of my library’s struggles to keep our 3D-printing program alive after our expert left.  Since then, all of us working on 3D printing at my library have learned all kinds of tricks to make things go more smoothly!  Given that, I think it’s time I shared some of what I’ve been learning.


Above all else, have an organization system to deal with requests.  The other librarian who’s really in charge of 3D printing right now has actually been great about this all along.  I was a slower study for these not-strictly-3D-printing-related organizational details, but lately I’ve seen the light and even started adding my own embellishments to the system.

Here’s the gist of what I’ve been doing lately: When a request comes in, I print out the email, and jot down any relevant notes on the printout.  These might be things like the recommended settings to print something at, an estimate of how long a print will take, or whether I’ve already attempted the print and had it fail.  These notes are essential when more than one person is chipping in to keep the 3D-printing program chugging along!  I also put all the files this particular user wants printed into their own folder on the desktop.  That way, anyone who’s helping out knows where to find exactly what they need (and we can actually tell when it’s safe to delete some of the files that have been building up).

We also have a receipt book to keep track of our prints and how much they ended up costing the user.  (Note: This is not an accurate representation of *our* costs, since we don’t charge for failed prints.  We’re getting better and seeing a lot fewer failures now, but they still happen.)


Build Plates

The build plate, if you haven’t encountered the term already, is the surface that you print on.  If you spend much time reading about build plates, you’ll read all kinds of articles telling you that glass build plates are the way to go (here’s one).  People seem to write endlessly that acrylic build plates warp and become impossible to level, which makes your prints fail.  Glass build plates are much vaunted for not having this problem.

That said–remember how practically all of my library’s prints were failing, in that first 3D-printing post I wrote?  Just about everything we printed was warping to the point where the printer just couldn’t handle it.  We switched back to an acrylic build plate and instantly that problem disappeared.  I assume that this problem has something to do with how glass vs. acrylic conducts heat, but I don’t actually know that for a fact.  What I know is that on our Makerbot Replicator 2, I have no intention of ever going anywhere near a glass build plate ever again.  (Note: The Replicator 2 doesn’t do the whole “heated build plate” thing; it’s not an option.)


Filament Color

Don’t ask me why filament color should matter, but I tell you this most emphatically: It does.  It really does.  We’ve bought all our filament so far from Makerbot, so I can’t speak to other brands–but each color has its own printing personality.  For example, we’ve had a slew of requests recently for tiny, ornate dollhouse furniture to be printed in white.  Guess what color of filament *really* doesn’t do well with tiny, fiddly prints?  Five points for Gryffindor if you guessed white.  You know what color works great for tiny, ornate furniture legs?  Neon pink.  Barbie, eat your heart out!  The image at the start of this post shows a successful print of these chairs in pink, next to an earlier, failed print in white.  That’s a huge difference!

Most of the other colors seem to fall somewhere in between white and neon pink in terms of being able to handle tiny coffee table legs, as far as I can tell.  But you know what?  People can paint their tiny, dollhouse furniture after we print it.


Profiles (Tweaking the Settings)

We had a couple of prints that failed because the printer knocked the object loose before it finished printing.  In looking for ways to make things stick better to the build plate, we stumbled across custom slicing profiles.  If you increase the raft outset, you increase how far the raft extends beyond the object itself.  This means you can give your object a larger footprint on the build plate–holding it in place more securely while it prints.  There are roughly a zillion more settings buried in there, so if you’ve been wishing Makerware let you change more than infill, shells, and the presence of rafts and supports–this is your big chance.

Pro tip: When you’re creating your custom profile, don’t skip the drop-down that lets you select what kind of filament you’re using.  We thought our custom profiles were a bust for a while, before realizing that we’d left it on settings for ABS while we were trying to print with PLA.  Oops.


Between our new build plate, learning about different colors of filament and their strengths/weaknesses, and digging into custom profiles, we’ve been seeing a lot more successful prints than we were at first.  Have any of you been 3D printing, successfully or otherwise?  What tricks have you learned?  What’s been giving you trouble?

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