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Hands-on Experience with 3D Printing

February 13, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,review — Terry Wohlers @ 18:25

Note: The following was authored by Tyler Hudson, an intern at Wohlers Associates. His comments are related to the UP! 3D printer from Micro Delta Factory Corp.

Before starting at Wohlers Associates, I had no experience with 3D printers. I had heard about them and knew the general idea behind their operation, but I had an idealized vision of how they worked. I thought that you simply gave the printer your CAD model and it would print out perfect parts every time. I’m guessing that many others have a similar view of 3D printing.

In reality, a lot goes on behind the scenes when making a part. I discovered that the prep work before printing is the most important. Prior to building the first part on the machine, I ensured that the build platform was perfectly level. This is done by adjusting leveling screws located under the build platform.

To build a good part, I soon discovered that setting the extrusion nozzle height is not only important, it is critical. I found that if I did not do it correctly, it would lead to a failed part. If the nozzle is too high, the first layer of plastic will not fully stick to the platform and this and subsequent layers would curl upward. It is necessary to adjust the nozzle height before each build because the height of the platform can change from one build to the next.

Another key to successful prints is to properly orient the part. This affects how the support structures are attached, which in turn affects how easy or difficult it is to remove the supports after the build is complete. A part may have bulky support material when oriented one direction, but less support material when rotated 90 degrees.

The quality of the print can also vary depending on the type of object that is being printed. Parts with fine or complex geometric features are difficult to print on low-cost 3D printers. Therefore, I’ve learned to build simpler parts, which increase the chances of a successful build.

When I follow these basic “rules,” the experience has been favorable. I’m sure that as I continue to print parts, I will find more useful tricks that increase the percentage of quality builds.