The State of 3D Printing

This was almost called “My Final Evaluation of 3D Printing” but that sounded too mortal and finite. I’m not going to stop printing. In fact, I intend to become adept at it, as it evolves, which it’s doing rapidly, and I enjoy as an aspect of it. Quick iterations and a large, and growing, community always improving and tweaking everything to make it all more customizable, which I like, and secure, which I like, and faster, which I like and fun, which I like.

I’ve reached a point of intermediacy that I don’t feel that I’m learning enough that’s new to compel me to write as much about it as I have been. The new and important things and aspects are becoming more spaced and more specialized and, as it should be, more refined. I’ve learned all the ins and outs to beyond intermediate, and I’m not an “expert” like there are, and have been, online. They’re the ones I follow and I don’t intend to become an online influential figure on the topic. There are FAR better resources than I out there, which I enjoy following and list here on this site, as I stumble upon and learn of them.

3D printing is learning a skill comprised of many smaller skills and seems like welding or machining in general if I had to come up with a synonym. There’s such a fine level of detail that you can explore with it, like photography or playing guitar. It’s infinite.

It’s a skill to build fun, necessary, artistic, educational, safety, and fantastical, prototypical things and one that’s tough to learn beyond the absolute basics. At least not without a good understanding of electrical, software, mechanical engineering, design, mathematical, physical, and soldering. A day to learn and a lifetime to master. The 3D ecosystem is growing and I suspect will continue and become more commoditized. That’s good. there’s a ton of good, useful, valuable, and promising about 3D printing. And a lot of room for growth. It’s reached kids and classrooms. Lots of homes have them. But they’re a side gobby, it seems for men far more than women, as is engineering. And it’s very global.

A lot of nearly-built entry-level printers come out of China, as do many components. But Russia/Ukraine, Canada, Australia, America, and a host of other countries have big 3D printing communities and manufacturers of components and printers. That’s good – it’s diversified culturally and geographically. There are cons to that, but I won’t spend time on those. They’re easy enough to determine. My current printer is from China. My next printer I believe will be a Prusa. It seems to be the next step up from where I am to where I want to be after that. I’m not planning a farm. It’s not uncommon for people to have 4 or so printers, depending on what projects they’re working on. Each printer should be better, have more options of value, be fit for someone at a more advanced level than the last, have a growing and mature community built around it online, and be a solid and growing company that’s iterating, and being innovative. That’s a long list for anyone to adhere to, but to be competitive in a capital market, you must.

3D printing attracts a very narrow niche in our population. Mostly men, introverted, curious, creative, and results and data-driven. A quantitative side, in other words. You need to not only know how to but enjoy using calipers, gauges, math, hand tools, taking apart mechanisms and putting them back together with new pieces, and be mechanical as well as solve any problem that suddenly arises, because that’s a lot of what this is about. Complex problem-solving, abstract thought and theorizing, which doesn’t appeal to females as much in any endeavor I’ve learned. Of course, there are exceptions, which is all the are and thusly commonly called such.

I’ve been having the worst time with my printer. Everything crapped out at once. Just after printing a string of beautiful prints, no problem, and fast.

Then one day, nothing adhered. Then it paused while printing. And was leaving huge blobs of filament surrounded by strings. “Spiders.”

print fail for geodesic cube
This eventually fully printed. It was at 75% of the full scale. The full-scale version blew out at about 80% completeness. Grr.
blue bird's nest
Blue Bird’s nest

I had to try something, abort print. Try something else, abort the print. And repeat for weeks. Went online, asked everyone what could be the problem with photos. Got a collective shrug and kept on problem shooting. I did get a lot of attempts at help, which is noted and appreciated. No one could spot the problem from experience.

Same with this issue.

There are a handful of items that everyone prints to use as a metric to gauge how well they’re printing, like a cube or in many cases, this little ship nicknamed Benchy. People have boxes of this thing in their garages I’m sure. It’s a cry for recycling PLA. That’s a problem I’d like to solve. It’s a problem that needs solving. So much PLA scrap is wasted. Turning used Coke, or any plastic, bottles into 3D extrudable filament would be game-changing to use a term that’s overused but appropriate here. I would never have to buy filament again.

Then one day I just decided to throw a hail Mary and start sending the most I had at it. Having this printer sitting idle is something that drives me crazy. And it worked. I printed a series of little ghosts for Cecelia and decided to try the biggest print I have on hand, and it’s working. Sticking, at least, and no catastrophes, which as the most you can ask some days, except running out of filament mid-print, which isn’t the end of the world with this printer. You can pause it and resume, so if the power went out, it’s not the end of the world. It will remember what going on at the moment the kill switch was hit for whatever reason, which is huge, just for when printing HUGE prints like I’m now doing. I think I’m going to have to do 2 spool changes mid-print. Notice I’ve resorted to placing blue painter’s tape AND purple glue down to get prints to adhere at this point. That’s a design fail, but I’m not necessarily fussing about it. I’m sure the engineers are as aware of the issue as I am. Lots of people do this, which is why I know about it. There are 3rd party solutions, like mats and G-10 surfacing that exist, but if they’re truly better for the long-haul, I have faith the engineers that are handling the print plates would have switched permanently if it is a good permanent solution. Don’t you?

Here is the set of ghosts I printed, just in time for Halloween. My daughter should like these.

boo- 3d printed ghosts
boo. Fear the imperfections.

As seen by the up-close photo of the ghosts, there is room for improvement as far as the final results. Stringing, very visible layers. Which can be good if it’s a texture you’re going for. It differentiates the item as a 3D printed version and adds at least an artistic twist, if not a scientific one.

There’s a great write-up of nozzle diameter vs. time vs. cleanliness of prints here. I wish I could thank the guy that runs this site more than he allows. He has some great stuff and has put a lot of time and thought into that website, especially if you have an Anycubic Mega S, which I happen to have. It’s a great printer, but the thing is with a lot of technology like this, there is pressure, or at least a desire, to always put out a new, better, model. Constantly. New features, bigger, stuff like that doesn’t really change what the printer actually does, but it creates splinters in the Anycubic line and ecosystem. So many variations can eventually be overwhelming and cause confusion. I hope the “Mega S” doesn’t become obsolete prematurely, is all I’m saying. These printers are so scrappy that they seem like there’s a long life to them. I can always hack it and add/remove what I don’t like. And the online support, software, firmware, and supply chain are all stable. Future considerations to worry about…

He gets the best results with a 1mm layer height and .2mm nozzle. That’s after a test of a combination of each nozzle diameter and height, within reason, which is an arduous test for 1 person to conduct.

He gets the best results with a 1mm layer height and .2mm nozzle.

Me. Putting this here for easy cranial access when needed.

Here are a couple of photos taken while printing El Guapo. This was 78% into the job and spool #2 of three. So I learned and was able to practice switching out filament mid-job, which is useful for this purpose as well as switching colors, and possibly types of filaments altogether, like PLA to wood, or something?

I’d think this is maxing out the space available to print on this model printer. 205mmx210mmx210mm I believe. Maybe a higher Z axis by looking at it. That would be an interesting, but useless, thing to print: a cube showing the max dimensions I can print in by #d printing it myself. I could do that once I become better at modeling and slicing. Using the software, that is. I’ve found that I really like the Prusa slicing software, but have no way to tap into Octoprint to print from my laptop GUI at the very least. So I’m held to Ultimaker Cura for slicing purposes. That makes a person look at Ultimaker printers, which is a great marketing move.

These photos are cover material for “DORK” magazine. Not just for the imposing focal item, but for including the nerd material surrounding it.

3d-pringing, raspberry pi, iphoneclose up of the marble run 78% done
There’s a lot of geek going on here. See if you can spot it all.

It’s a good thing the filament for printing is relatively inexpensive because the name of this game is experimentation. See what works, see if it can be made better until it fails, go back to square one, and begin again.

The huge marble run above ended up being a failure overall although I learned quite a bit along the way. You have to salvage what you can from such experiences. I had the “add support” box checked and it added some serious supports. More than I can remove. That’s one reason it looks so massive. Normally supports can be added and when finished printing, you can snip and pull them away. Not so here. And that was the rest of 2 whole spools of that silky metal filament. I still have one spool but it’s not a habit I want to make.

I changed the nozzle out and line-height to be .2mm and 1mm respectively. I began to reprint another part for the marble run and it started stringing and then the nozzle clogged, so I aborted. I thought it might clog, being so fine and small. But it shouldn’t. So I need to learn how to fix this.

Changing the nozzle out is no big deal now, which is a nice thing to say.

Learning how to handle 210degree celsius parts is something I have learned to take seriously. I burned my fingers on a wood-burning set I had when I was about 7 (too young for such a thing. The 1970s were “anything goes”) and the first word I learned was “hot” from touching a hot stove right after being told it was “hot.”

Took a week’s break there. That’s how I’ve begun writing on this site. I keep about 10 balls juggling in the air in my life at the time, I’ve learned. I keep about 65 works of art on hand here at any time, and come back and work on them, refine them and one day publish them, hopefully, while they’re still relevant.

After so many printing problems, I’m happy to say things are back on track, after a LOT of tweaking. And I mean a lot.

Bed leveling, X-Axiz calibrating, micro-adjusting slicing settings, A/B testing, cleaning and maintaining, and even putting on a new printing surface on top of my glass I bought forever ago from China and just received. (Not complaining- that’s one reason why it’s so cheap) I tried endless blue tape, and even that wasn’t doing it.

The problems I’m having now, if any, seem to be coming from the code. Whether that’s from the original source, or something happening between slicing and turning a .stl to gcode, which I imagine there’s a big opportunity for “miscode” the prints aren’t always 100%. And I still want to refine the final quality anyway. With a printer in this price range I have, with as much as I’m using it, it needs TLC and a lot of tuning and care to get consistently high-quality output. I expect that, from the laws of the world.

This is a print that started out great, then halfway through the whole print shifted over 50%. This happens more than I’d like. And when you’re halfway through, what do you do? In this case, I let it print out and I’ll call it “art.”

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