Why Does My 3D Printer Keep Failing
The manufacturing of 3D printers can be considered one of the best works of mankind as its main purpose is to build three-dimensional objects out of a variety of materials e.g. wood, acrylic, paper, metal, ceramic, etc.
Bearing little to no resemblance to your regular document or photo printing achiness, 3D printers have not only become quite popular but are also available for both industry and personal uses.
In the mid-1980s, the first-ever 3D printer was developed and it made use of the stereolithography technique the 3D Systems Company which sold 3D printers that make use of a variety of technologies ranging from entry-level kits to advanced commercial systems was founded in 1986.
3D printers are delicate creations encompassing a variety of technologies, processes, and software which is why one has to be careful when making use of them to avoid damage or even further damage in an attempt to repair them.
Unlike a subtractive manufacturing process where a final design is cut, drilled, milled, or machined off from a larger block of material, 3D printing is an additive process where the layers of material used to create a three-dimensional part are built up from scratch to avoid material wastage. Simply put, it is a method of creating a three-dimensional object layer-by-layer using a computer-created design.
While there are different techniques are materials employed by 3D printers, they all possess the ability to turn digital files containing three-dimensional data created on a computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program, or from a 3D scanner into physical objects.
Important factors that contribute to how long 3D printing can take are speed, resolution, the volume of material, size of the part, settings, and quality of the finished part as items with higher quality take longer to produce than those with lower quality. 3D printing could last from a few minutes to hours or days depending on these factors.
Some of the ways in which 3D printing can be beneficial include:
- Granting designers the ability to turn concepts into 3D models or prototypes and implement rapid design changes as quickly as they need to.
- It allows manufacturers to produce products on demand instead of in large runs which is a way of improving inventory management and reducing warehouse space.
- Those in need of objects that might be inaccessible to them due to their remote location can easily fabricate the objects through 3D printing.
- It helps to save money and materials since it is an additive manufacturing process and not subtractive, ensuring that very little raw material is wasted.
As mentioned above, several 3D printers make use of different kinds of technologies and there are three broad types of 3D printing technology including:
- Stereolithography: This utilizes photopolymerization to create parts by using the correct light source to interact with the material in a selective manner to cure and solidify a cross-section of the object in thin layers.
- Melting: This method of 3D printing includes powder bed fusion, electron beam melting, and direct energy deposition. With the use of lasers, electric arcs, or electron beams, objects are printed by melting the materials together at high temperatures.
- Sintering: This technology heats the material to create high-resolution items but not to the point of melting. For direct metal laser sintering, metal powder is used while for selective laser sintering, the thermoplastic powder is used.
The additive manufacturing process of 3D printing is categorized into seven groups which are Binder Jetting, Direct Energy Deposition, Material Extrusion, Material Jetting, Powder Bed Fusion, Sheet Lamination, and VAT Polymerization.
- Binder Jetting: A thin layer of powdered material e.g. metal, polymer sand, or ceramic, is deposited onto the build platform, and then drops of adhesive are deposited by a print head to bind the particles together. Through this, the part is built layer by layer to be completed by post-processing such as thermal saturation /infiltration or saturation with cyanoacrylate adhesive.
- Direct Energy Deposition: Here, focused thermal energy such as an electric arc, laser, or electron beam is used to fuse wire or powder feedstock as it is deposited. In order to build a layer the process is done horizontally and to create a part, the layers are stacked vertically. Materials such as metals, ceramics, and polymers can be used in this process.
- Material Extrusion: Also known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), this technology was used by the first set of 3D printers to come into the market and it has a filament in it composed of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA), or another thermoplastic which is melted and deposited through a heated extrusion nozzle in layers.
Once the extrusion head heats, softens, and lays down the heated material at set locations here it will cool to create a layer of material, the build platform then moves down ready for the next layer. This process is cost-effective and so tends to create parts that are weaker in one direction and therefore unsuitable for critical applications. It also often requires post-processing to create a smooth finish.
- Material Jetting: It is one of the most expensive methods of 3D printing but allows for the creation of fully colored parts in different kinds of materials. It works by depositing layers of liquid material from one or more print heads and when the layers are cured, the process for the next layer begins again. This process requires the use of support structures that can be made from water-soluble materials which would eventually be washed away once the build is complete.
- Powder Bed Fusion: This process enables thermal energy like lasers or electron beams to selectively fuse areas of a powder bed to form layers which are then built upon each other to create a part. This method involves both the sintering and melting processes.
The selective laser sintering (SLS) is used to manufacture polymer parts and is good for prototypes as a result of the properties produced while the direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser melting (SLM), and electron beam powder bed fusion (EBPBF) create parts from metal with the use of a laser to bind powder particles together layer-by-layer.
- Sheet Lamination: There are two different technologies involved in this process and they are laminated object manufacturing (LOM) and ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM). The LOM uses alternative layers of material and adhesive to create items with visual and aesthetic appeal, while the UAM which is a low temperature, low energy process that can be used with aluminum, stainless steel and titanium joins thin sheets of metal through ultrasonic welding.
- VAT Polymerization: The two techniques involved in this process are: stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP) which both create parts layer-by-layer by using a light to selectively cure the liquid resin in a vat. While the SLA uses a single point laser or UV source for the curing process, the DLP flashes a single image of each full layer unto the surface of the vat.
There is a wide range of items that can be created with the use of 3D printers and not only are they models or prototypes, but final products as well. Several industries have adopted 3D printing in creating parts, tools, sculptures, artifacts, etc, as it is more cost-effective than the traditional process.
Aviation and automotive industries are able to make parts with 3D printers, artists can create sculptures, architects can fabricate models of their projects, archeologists can reconstruct models of fragile artifacts, paleontologists can duplicate dinosaur skeletons and fossils, physicians can make prosthetics, hearing aids, artificial teeth, bone grafts, etc, all with 3D printers.
Even food 3D printers have become commercially available as food items like chocolate, pancakes, or cookies can be created with 3D printers; as well as jewelry, furniture, shoe designs, and so on.
Due to its complexities, 3D printers often have a lot of troubleshooting issues that come up during use. Some of the issues or failures that you could face when making use of 3D printers are as follows:
- Out of Filament: This is when the 3D printer is working but nothing seems to be printing even after you might have correctly configured and set the model in the slicing software. If after repeatedly sending a print to the printer and all you’re getting is a filament spit coming out of the nozzle, or the filament extrusion suddenly stops working while the nozzle continues its run just when the model is about to be printed, then an out of filament failure is manifesting.
- Short Distance between the Nozzle and Print Bed: Another 3D printing issue is when the nozzle is too close to the print bed causing no filament to be deposited on the print bed even after you might have loaded the filament correctly and nothing seems wrong with the print bed.
- Over-Extrusion: This is when the printer produces more material than what is needed making the printed models have excess materials on them, and this is caused by the flow setting or extrusion multiplier in your slicing software being higher than normal.
- Incomplete and Messy Infill: This is when the internal structure of your print is either broken or missing whether as a result of having incorrect settings in your slicing software or due to a slightly blocked nozzle.
- Warping: This is when the printed model bends upwards at the base until it no longer aligns with the print platform causing the print to be unstuck on the print bed and horizontal cracks to form in the upper parts of the printed models. This is a 3D failure that happens because warping is the natural characteristic of plastics. It begins to contract as your filament cools down.
- Messy First Layer: This 3D printing issue presents itself through non-sticky print or unwanted lines at the bottom shell, and also by producing a blurry, congealed design at the bottom of your print. This can be caused either by the print bed temperature being too high or the bed is not properly leveled.
- Elephant’s Foot: This is when your print bows or curves out at the bottom and is caused by the weight of the model pressing down on its base before it cools back to solid.
- Deformed or Melted Print: Mostly caused by an overheated hot-end or improperly balanced temperature of the printer, this 3D printing issue causes uneven layers and melted models.
- Snapped Filament: This is when despite being full and appearing to have some filament in it after taking a look at the filament spool, there is nothing coming out of the nozzle. The most common cause of this issue is that the filament is old or cheap.
- Cracked Models: This occurs when there are cracks on the side of your models, especially when making taller or larger prints and it happens because the materials being used cool faster in your print’s high layers. The upper layers become less adhesive when the heat generated by the print bed does not get to the upper parts.
The solutions to each of these 3D printing issues or failures are as follows:
- Out of Filament: This failure can be fixed by removing the remaining filament and loading in new material, and if there’s no material at all in the filament reel, all you have t do is load in another reel.
- Short Distance between Nozzle and Print Bed: There are two ways to fix this issue or failure and the first is by raising your nozzle a little high from the print bed by giving the Z-axis setting a positive value. Refrain from setting the value too high to avoid your prints sticking to the bed. Secondly, you can fix this issue by lowering the print bed if your 3D printer allows it. This can be a little more complicated than the first alternative because you’ll have to level and recalibrate the bed.
- Over-Extrusion: To fix this, you should go to your slicer software, check your extrusion multiplier setting to select the right value, and then go to the flow setting to decrease it.
- Incomplete and Messy Fill: You have to check your infill density to see if it isn’t lower than the ideal value which is 25% because if it is then you are likely to experience printing issues. However, you can increase the value if you are running larger prints.
- Warping: You can fix this issue by setting the heated platform to a glass transition temperature that is just below the melting point of the plastic or leveling the print by rechecking the calibration and ensuring that the bed aligns and the nozzle height is perfect.
- Messy First Layer: To fix this, you need to reduce the bed temperature by continuously reducing it down 5o at a time until your desired adhesion result is gotten without losing any detail.
- Elephant’s Foot: Ensure that the cooling is just the right amount because too much cooling will cause the base layers to become warped. You can start by lowering the print platform’s temperature by five-degree intervals to about plus or minus 20o of the temperature recommended.
- Deformed or Melted Print: Maintain a proper material temperature setting between 180oC and 260oC, and also reduce the temperature of the printer’s hot end by an interval of 5oC depending on how hot the temperature is.
- Snapped Filament: To solve this issue, you can either make use of another filament to be sure if the problem was with your old filament, or you can check your printer’s temperature and flow rate to ensure that the filament’s flow rate is not higher than a hundred percent.
- Cracked Objects: You can fix this by increasing the extruder temperature by 10oC and keeping your 3D printer’s temperature setting within the recommended values indicated at the side of the filament’s box.
3D printing is an invention that has helped mankind in the easy creation of certain items that are useful to society at large, but much like owning any kind of equipment at all, the ownership of a 3D printer is bound to be accompanied by troubleshooting issues that could occur due to wear and tear of certain software overtime.
However, some of the most common issues or failures that could be encountered during 3D printing are all listed above with the ways in which you can solve or fix them.