Our designer of the month for March is 3D Brooklyn and their co-founder Will, is going to tell us about sustainable 3D printing, how you can get to know your 3D printer better, and how to get the best results for 3D printing. Let’s take a look!
We’ve all seen more 3D prints than we can recall at this point, and it can be hard to tell how useful these random designs really are, and if all this plastic is being used well. There is a lot of impressive and ground breaking innovation coming from 3D printing small and large, but this is a nod to the hobbyist with a passion for designing and a printer on their desk.
3D printers are awesome for bringing the digital world to the physical and taking an object off the print bed never gets old. The huge benefits we’ve found at 3D Brooklyn is these machines offer us such powerful tools not only for creating items that are actually useful, but also making them out of materials that don’t harm our environment or can actually help deplete garbage in landfills. This is why our goal is to design items that aren’t just meant to sit on your desk, but are sitting there because they actually have a use and a function in your everyday life. Because we believe in being sustainable, we only print with bio plastic (PLA).
Just recently we created a filament made out of 100% recycled potato chip bags (PP/PE) and are also experimenting with plastics that are typically sorted through recycling centers like HDPE and PET, which will soon be more heavily implemented in our product line. To learn more about sustainable 3D printing, check out Pinshape’s Guide to Green 3D Printing – 4 Tips to be More Sustainable!
Getting to know your 3D Printer
One of the most important parts of printing successful, functional designs is making sure that your machine can actually print them well. The more you know your printer, the more you can plan around its strengths and downfalls to get the best possible outcome. Knowing your printer’s limits is helpful when designing pieces that have a specific function so that you know when something is too thin to be read by the printer, or that two pieces have to fit together and you need tolerance because your printer isn’t 100% accurate (and never will be).
1) Orient your design: In my design process, figuring out print orientation is pretty much the first move. This includes orienting your model to avoid overhangs and bridges. Orienting your model in a way that makes it easier to print can really save you a lot of mess and headache later on.
Orientation is also important for layer strength. If you are designing a piece that needs a lot of strength, it is important to design that area to print laterally on a Z layer, rather than printing vertically across multiple layers. This is because if a strong force is applied to a print, it must be designed and oriented so that the force is not against the z axis, where the layers create weakness. Imagine printing a ruler laying as it normally would on a desk versus printing it vertically on either butt end. If you were to bend it, the vertically printed one would snap at virtually every layer, while the horizontally printed one has layers that span the entire length, giving it no weak spots. Basing your design off of how it’ll eventually print can be a great starting point.
2) Avoid supports: No one likes cleaning supports, and I do everything I can to design so that they aren’t needed. If anything, I will often create a few supports in the file rather than using auto supports. Keep your model anchored to itself and you can avoid supports altogether.
3) Design for tolerance: How about designs that must fit into one another? It’s easy to get stuck iterating a prototype over and over just to get one part to fit right. Isolating this part of the design and printing a few different sized tests helps, but knowing how much tolerance you need at different scales beforehand can save a lot of prototype time even if you don’t nail it the first time. It’s safe to play between .25mm and .75mm depending on the scale and type of geometry of the model.
4) Design for the right level of detail: Another reason for knowing your printer’s tendencies is so you can plan the detail of your models. This is mostly relevant to your layer height, as that has a huge impact on the surface finish of a part. For instance, a piece with a top surface that slopes ever so slightly will have very distinct striations, opposed to one with a perfectly flat surface that can be filled in evenly on a single layer. For small detail textures or details, it is really helpful to know how small, pointed, or detailed your printer can accurately produce.
5) Adjust model wall thickness for desired strength/flexibility: The model’s wall thickness can really effect how infill is printed when you print small models. Knowing how small you can go with different infill patterns and densities will let you plan your designs more accurately when certain rigidity or give is needed.
If you are looking for flexibility in your final printed object, there are various ways to give rigid plastic flexibility. It typically involves geometry that is long and narrow. These are often made as zig zags or waves to increase total distance. The longer the distance and thinner the geometry, the more flex you’ll have.
Testing your printer
There’s lots of 3d printer calibration tests out there, and test kits can help you get the most out of your printer by identifying what it is and isn’t capable of. A good kit should be able to tell you how your 3D printer handles printout out different shapes— for example, can it print sharp corners? Can it manage to print out a narrow tip? How accurate is your print versus the design’s measurements?
Although your printer may have no issues printing big models, it may struggle with small details. This too can be figured out by doing tests so keep this in mind when designing or choosing a design to print.
Asides from identifying the limits of your printer, you can also test the limits of your material. The ability to create overhangs varies depending on the type of filament you use. ABS is stiffer, and can usually produce better overhangs than PLA. Of course, printing overhang successfully also depends a lot on your printer, such as how well your cooling fans work. For a quick fix, you can avoid overhangs altogether by changing the orientation of your print or anchoring parts that extend over 45 degrees.
Comparing results and calibrating
Carrying out testing is not helpful if you’re not comparing the results you get in between calibrating your printer. If you notice issues in your print, these are some common points to take note of:
- Level your print bed.
- Ensure your slicer is not causing the issue. See Pinshape’s Slicer Settings for Beginners and Advanced Slicer Settings articles for more information.
- Use the right temperature for your filament to prevent oozing and loss of small details in your design.
- Use the right retraction settings to get rid of blobs or holes.
There are many other issues that may be causing prints to be of lower quality, but identifying the problem and documenting small changes to see what helps will help you gauge the abilities of your printer and improve the quality of your future prints.
3D printers are infinitely powerful tools, but without knowing how to properly use them, it’s hard to take advantage of their full potential. If at first your print doesn’t succeed, try try again and make sure to keep track of your changes so you know for next time.
About the author
Will Haude is co-founder and lead designer at 3D Brooklyn. He was introduced to 3D printing with a Cube 1 and learned how to design and print from there. Hobby turned passion turned business, Will has created 3D Brooklyn, a modern manufacturing company focusing on product creation and print services. 3D Brooklyn encompasses every step of the manufacturing process from ideation, to design, to strategy and manufacturing. Using 3D printing to change how we manufacture hyper locally while using sustainable materials and practices is the ethos of 3D Brooklyn.