As a child, those who enjoyed gluing cardboard rolls and cutting cereal boxes to make spaceships or tracks for cars have certainly been fascinated by the mass diffusion of 3D printers. The system is now so widespread that we can find small devices for rapid prototyping in schools, in many design and architecture studios, even in the living rooms or garages of makers and model-making enthusiasts. For the little ones, there are dedicated (almost) toy printers and other accessories, such as 3D pens.
The temptation to launch into a fairly contemporary future is high, but there are some general aspects to consider for a serene approach to a technology that, although it is becoming a rule in some types of industrial production and in the perspective of space travel, still remains a world relegated to the niches of geeks and geeks.
Let’s see together what you need to know before starting 3D printing.
1. The choice of location is important:
One of the first things to consider is the environment in which we want to use our 3D printing tool. Although some of the aspects to keep in mind are related to the choice of the material we are going to use, there are some basic rules that should be respected starting from this preliminary phase.
The choice of the right room is therefore essential: especially for entry level models, through which most future enthusiasts approach the world of additive manufacturing, it is good to foresee a certain amount of noise pollution; prolonged exposure to the typical sound of mechanical elements, belts and motors can become annoying, especially at night and considering that the printing process is often very long.
It is therefore unthinkable to use the bedroom (perhaps the living room?) As a basis for our creativity, as well as the kitchen and, in general, the environments in which we eat or stay for many hours, unless they are large and ventilated: the ideal is a room separated from the home, sufficiently large and equipped with windows or an ventilation system, to better protect health.
The support Base:
Even the support base of the printer must be chosen with care: vibrations are among the main causes of bad results on prints, but also the most easily solved. It is useful to place the 3D printer on a large table, at a comfortable height for which it is possible to carry out the classic maintenance and printing operations of the pieces; if you have enough space, the ideal is not to lean the table against the walls but leave it free on the sides so that you can walk around the printer (be careful not to trip over the cables, though!). Whatever machine model you choose, the central position of the table will be useful for accessing the feed compartments or for loading and changing the print filaments.
A large enough table will allow us to keep all the basic tools at hand, which change depending on the model or printing system, such as common hair spray or double-sided adhesive, for those who do not have a heated plate capable of creating grip with the freshly extruded material and prevent the print from peeling, up to Allen keys, suitable screwdrivers, tweezers, spare parts. A table with a couple of drawers is an ideal solution for those who do not want to keep everything in sight, considering that the top must be kept free for the spool of filament, which must be able to slide freely.
An Eye on Safety:
Incomplete prints, tools, materials hovering on the table: always an eye on safety! If you’re not alone in the house or have small children hanging around the living room, make sure the print environment can be made inaccessible.
In addition to avoiding domestic accidents, Batman’s 32-hour print will also be safe from the unexpected. A good UPS will also allow those who do not have the latest generation printers equipped with the recovery functions of interrupted prints not to waste materials and printing hours when the power goes out.
2. Not all printers are suitable for your needs:
It may sound strange to some, but there are 3D printer models that can be purchased for 100 euros or a little more. The commonly known 3D printing system, which heats a material and pushes it through an extruder to a precise size (there are many, however, other more complex systems that harden polymers with the laser, for example) is now widely cleared through customs and many of the models cheaper are composed of assemblable kits put together on the basis of existing models, by competitor “clone”.
Therefore, there is no way to identify the perfect printer: as for the other choices, it depends a lot on the skills you already have but also on the space available, the budget, the desire to “tweak” and the predisposition to do so. The truth, as can be easily seen by attending the many online communities, including on Facebook, dedicated to the topic, that excellent maintenance and timely compliance with parameters produce excellent results even with not particularly noble machinery. A large investment in the instrument does not mean, in fact, being able to do without the necessary cleaning and maintenance operations, such as precautions to make the device work and safe.
Delta and Cartesian Printers:
The family of 3D printers is therefore divided into two main branches: the delta systems, composed of three arms on which the trolleys that hook the printing nozzle slide, and the Cartesian ones, which use a rail system that pushes the trolley in the desired directions. . There is no objective superiority of one system over the other but, usually, Delta printers allow you to develop a greater print volume in height. When it comes to the budget, both options offer models for all budgets.
If the instrument is used in the presence of children or people who are not informed about the possible consequences of improper use of the printer (the heating block can exceed 250 ° in temperature), it is important to choose a model with suitable safety systems, such as the doors connected to the printing system, which prevent access to the compartment when the machine is running.
3. The choice of material should not be underestimated:
There are 3D printers that can really print everything: some make fantastic chocolate monuments and others, with large bases, make entire housing constructions. Some companies build clay printers, which will later become ceramic fired in kilns, others are made to use aluminum, but most of the models on the market easily print PLA and ABS, even if the most daring try to use different materials not expressly supported by the manufacturers. It is not recommended, of course, but where would we be today without the crazy experiments of those who have little competence with a certain subject?
PLA and ABS:
The substantial difference between PLA and ABS is that the former is based on polylactic acid and is therefore biodegradable. Its use is also acceptable in domestic environments, because at the melting temperature of the material (between 195 and 200 degrees approximately) there is no production of fumes; it is created by processing various plant products, including corn, potatoes or sugar beets. For plastic-based materials such as ABS the situation is different and, by virtue of their composition, it is always recommended to operate in a well-ventilated environment and / or with filters suitable for air purification, but they are more robust materials, more easily workable. and equipped with greater flexibility (the famous LEGO bricks are made of ABS).
In summary, we could say that organic-based materials such as PLA are more suitable for prints for aesthetic use only, given the great variety of colors and translucencies that can be obtained, while ABS lends itself perfectly to more practical productions. and functional, such as the creation of lasting joints.
The printing materials arrive in the form of thread, wound on spools that are organized by weight (and not in meters of filament). It starts with small sizes of 250 gr. to get to the 5 kg packs, usually purchased from laboratories or by those who have large format printers.
There are printers that use dedicated products or special resins, for uses closer to dental modeling or the goldsmith’s art. The choice of these machines is however bound to a more in-depth technical knowledge.
4. Where can you find the files to Print:
Unless you have specific skills in modeling files with specific software (professional programs like Rhinoceros are perfect but also free online tools like Tinkercad, depending on the complexity of the project), you will need to contact the many online communities that collect libraries of file to print. The procedure is simple: you download a file, usually in .stl format, and pass it through the slicer (the most famous is Ultimaker’s Cura, but there are many others), which takes care of sectioning the file into layers printable and returns a .gcode file ready for printing.
On the web there is really everything you can imagine you want to print. To easily realize this, just visit the popular Thingiverse, very popular among makers, but also Myminyfactory which, through the Scan the World project, collects thousands of classical and modern art files collected by digital scanners all over the world.
If there is no specific need to design customized files but you can be satisfied with the full-size reproduction of the Darth Vader helmet, in these repositories there are also “one print” projects (or “single print” or more ” print in place “): these are projects, usually very quick to print, not too large, which do not require special assemblies but are printed in a single solution.
Tuning and Coding:
Great space within the collections is dedicated by makers to Arduino and Raspberry, but also to the world of 3D printers, with a very long series of printable upgrades, gadgets, accessories, reel holders and other printing geek material. Coding and 3D printing are two worlds that travel close and often intersect, so much so that they converge both in Fab Labs and in many of the free projects available to everyone.
5. The Patience:
With 3D printers you can print almost anything, a lot also depends on the patience you have.
You will need a good amount of it: get used to everything and immediately just a click away, waiting 4 hours to print a 4 cm keychain can seem like a very long time. This perception is not very focused because it does not highlight the true potential of the diffusion of these tools in everyone’s homes: rapid prototyping.
The settings and leveling of the floor:
Even the exact settings and configurations, unless you opt for a pre-assembled professional model (perhaps with safety door and air filters), require the right amount of time in order not to run into prints that lift off the printing plate. or in imperfections on the surfaces. There is little to do: it is a mechanical system, so the more precise and punctual the assemblies, configurations and maintenance are, the better the result. Conversely, we can always settle for an imperfect test print, when necessary, but the risk of wearing out parts and components by using them improperly exists.
The main advantage for those involved in design is the net decrease in the time needed to get from the idea to the prototype, which is accompanied by a marked decrease in the costs for prototyping, which does not need molds for the design drafts. Once the process has been perfected, it can be standardized and industrialized, perhaps by applying the structures of factory decentralization to point towards widespread production organizations.
Imagine instead of Replicating:
Reversing the perspective and considering the printed object as a reproduction of a project conceived only 6/8 hours before, the printing time is not that long.
One of the major limits to the spread of a transversal “maker culture” within the social fabric is our inability to free ourselves from superstructures when we come into contact with things we do not know: it will be necessary, having an object capable of giving shape to any pindaric flight of the human mind, free oneself from the logic of the keychain and the whistle and start designing and printing daring solutions, new things, fantasies. Instead of mimicking the industry, which produces pieces that are all the same, focusing on the uniqueness of digital craftsmanship may be the right choice.
If the use is mainly playful or artistic, in fact, the hours necessary to create the object lose their meaning completely, when they do not even become a hobby and pastime: even after thousands of hours of printing, following the process is visually very fascinating, almost hypnotic.
To approach the world of Makers:
Maker Faire Rome is an event created to satisfy an audience of onlookers of all ages who want to get to know and experience the inventions created by makers. Ideas that arise from the desire to solve small and big problems of everyday life, or even just to have fun and entertain.
Organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, through its special company Innova Camera, Maker Faire Rome – The European Edition 4.0 is an event that combines science, science fiction, technology, entertainment and business, giving life to something completely new.
Not just a fair for professionals: you can find inventions in the fields of science and technology, biomedical, digital manufacturing, internet of things, food, agriculture, climate, automation and even new forms of art, entertainment, music and crafts.