3D printing is usually associated with smell—the smell of filament burning. Depending on who you ask, and what material you are using, the smell may be sweet in the case of PLA or pungent if you are melting ABS. Rare materials like carbon fiber may smell… well, like burning carbon fiber— which is never good. The point is: usually, for those near a printer when it is in operation, they have to tolerate the odors that it emits.
There are scientists who are researching whether the fumes from 3D printers are dangerous and whether consumers should be concerned. It is also true that many 3D printers are sold without an enclosure and the chemicals emitted from melting plastic will be freely vented into the environment of whichever room the printer is located in. Some companies claim that they do not offer enclosures because of cost, whereas others cite fear of encroaching upon a still valid patent for heated chambers. Despite these facts, the consumer can step in and build an enclosure or heated chamber for their own printer. This can keep almost all the 3D printed aromas sealed off from the environment— and this can be done for less than, or up to, $200.
The first thing to consider when building an enclosure is to decide how much visibility you want. Do you want to see all sides of your printer? Or can you live with just seeing the front? Once you have determined your visibility, then you can decide on which materials you’ll use.
An enclosure can be made of an all acrylic structure or be framed with wood or metal extrusions. Depending on the size of the printer and the enclosure, this will usually narrow the choices into which is most cost effective and feasible to build. For small printers, an acrylic box can be constructed, and it may not even need a door. For larger printers, like a Delta printer, a door and perhaps a top needs to be built to get the printer in and out for maintenance. Once you have your enclosure considerations figured out, it’s time to start ordering parts and get building.
Building Your 3D Printer Enclosure
No discussion on how to build something would be appropriate without actually showing how to build it. I recently constructed a large delta printer and I documented the enclosure build.
1. Find out what materials you’ll need for your desired case
First, I had to figure out which type of case and materials I would need. For visibility: I wanted an enclosure that did not obstruct the view of the entire printer, so I needed a case with high visibility. I also have a large delta, and I would like it to match the black finish of the printer. Thus, I needed the acrylic on all sides to have high visibility, and a metal frame to match the printer. I also required a large enough door opening so that I’ll be able to pull the printer out of the case for maintenance.
2. Order your materials
What do you do when you want to enclose a delta printer? Build a bigger delta of course. I ordered six 1500mm 20×20 V-rail extrusions from OpenBuilds Part Store, two 1500mm 10×10 extrusions and two 80mm 10×10 extrusions from Amazon, five acrylic sheets from Amazon (24×48” x .118”), and six 1×48” acrylic sheets from McMaster-Carr. For the frame I printed out six Kossel top frame pieces in black PLA (you can also purchase these).
3. Cut the parts to fit your printer
With all of the parts printed and the packages from Amazon delivered, it was time to start building the case. I measured the size of the case that I would need, and it came out to 26” across. I cut the extrusions into the appropriate sizes for the vertical and horizontal rails and then I bolted the enclosure together. I double checked the size and then I moved on to adding the acrylic.
I used a Dremel with a diamond cutting wheel to cut the shape of the top and bottom sections of the acrylic into the Delta’s shape. I then attached three 24×48” sheets to the sides and the top and bottom acrylic to the case with Loctite E-40FL epoxy. Since the size of my case was too large for the 24×48” sheets to enclose the sides, I had to attach the 1×48” sections to each acrylic sheet to expand the acrylic enclosure. Once those extensions were attached, I used Loctite seal to attach the acrylic to the vertical rails. I used blue tape to hold it all together until everything was cured. Now, it was time to construct the door.
4. Build a door
For the door I used the last remaining sheet of 24×48” acrylic and framed it with the 10×10 aluminum extrusions. Framing gives the acrylic door rigidity and aids in sealing because it makes the acrylic flat and removes any curvature on the sheet. I glued the extrusions to the acrylic with the Loctite epoxy. For hinges I printed off black hinges that I found online (hinges from Pinshape here), or you can purchase hinges), and I attached them with screws. I drilled the holes and then used a screwdriver to attach the hinge to the frame. After the glue dried, I installed the door onto the box.
Once the box is enclosed you may or may not need a sealing gasket. If you still smell fumes, use a door sealant gasket like the ones found at your local hardware store to completely block out the gaps.
And you’re done!
This particular enclosure build cost me about $200. That was mainly due to the size and the materials used. Equivalent cases could have been made primarily of wood and would have cost less.
Now that your printer is enclosed, you will benefit from eliminating drafts which can affect a print, or add additions like a fan with a carbon activated filtering system to act as a scrubber, or even add heaters to create a heated build chamber to eliminate warping. The main benefit is that with the printer enclosed in a case, the smells associated with printing will be gone, and you, your friends, family—and their noses—will be much happier!
About the Author
Brett Turnage is a composites expert who runs his own company specializing in automotive carbon fiber manufacturing. He uses 3D printing and 3D scanning for prototyping and for product development.
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