Sunday, December 28, 2014

3D Print Host Log Book

What isn't always clear to the uninitiated is that 3D printing is a hobby of tinkering whether you want it to be or not. The output of a print will vary by:

  • Printer make/model
  • Revision of printer hardware
  • Revision of printer firmware
  • Host software
  • Slicing software
  • Temperature of heating element(s)
  • Speed the print is run at
  • Type of filament (PLA, ABS, nylon, etc)
  • Brand of filament
  • Batch of filament
  • Progress through a single spool of filament
  • Print surface (metal, wood, glass, tape)
  • Condition of print surface (cleanliness, presence/absence of adhesives)
  • Ambient temperature
  • Humidity
  • Nearby airflow
For better or worse there's also not a single set of conditions/settings that will make your prints successful. You may get very similar results to a given print by increasing print speed if you also increase temperature (or maybe the opposite).

Lately I've been working quite a bit at dialing in settings that work well for me. The MG Chemicals glow PLA I've been using for my train track project has been giving me no end of grief. In my setup it's all I can do to get it to adhere well enough to the print surface, let alone reduce corner warping enough to get usable output. Two different spools of Shaxon (natural, blue) work great, a spool of glow green I got from filamentsupply.com is also great. With the MG Chem I'll print a part and get good results, then print the same thing again and it will be a disaster. I've basically given up on it and switched to the filamentsupply glow green.

As an aside, my process now that's working pretty well is:
  1. Preheat the extruder to working temp +5C and let it sit so other surfaces can heat and expand.
  2. Adjust surface tape as needed. So far if I wipe with alcohol I get so much adhesion that it's difficult to sand the tape off the part.
  3. Set the slicer to run at 30% speed for the first layer.
  4. Set the slicer to produce a 3mm brim.
  5. Set the slicer to not engage the fan for the first 3 layers.
  6. Because I have my printer basically in a hallway, I make sure that there are no nearby doors open that will permit a draft.
  7. Take my heat gun and heat the surface until it registers around 110F with my IR temp gun.
  8. Start the print and watch it until the first two layers are complete. If I get there, it's like 95% success chance.
I've started keeping a log of my prep steps, settings, and materials and then recording notes on the results for the output. I expect this to be a handy troubleshooting tool.

Given that this is an inherently tinkering hobby, the host software should have this built in. When I go to do a print, it should record everything it knows. Printer settings (temp, etc), slicer settings, any calculated output the slicer provides (bounding volume, footprint, estimated volume of material, estimated print time), and actual print time. Having integrated cameras to take high-res photos every so often during the print would be amazing. It should of course provide an interface for notes so I can record anything the software doesn't, particularly observations of the output.

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