Keeping a properly maintained and efficient running 3D printer takes time and a dedicated schedule so that your printer continues to reliably print parts as it did on day one. In the long run, a properly maintained printer is simply easier to run, more efficient, less trouble, offers better prints and provides a higher ROI. There are four main categories to maintaining your FDM printer so that it continues to produce optimal and reliable prints, and in this article, we’ll break down the maintenance items into four sections. They are calibration, material storage, tips and flicker brush system, and overall cleanliness of the machine.
Calibrating 3D Printer
Calibration is important for a multitude of reasons but mainly for the accuracy of the printing heads in relation to the build tray which will affect the overall build success. If the printer is not calibrated correctly, the layers are not going to align and bond correctly, so print failures are guaranteed. Calibration steps vary between 3D printing machines. For example, a Fortus FDM printer requires the input of manual calibrations that is focused on the spacing between three tracks of material. Any adjustments that are made are manually adjusted using the adjustments on the onboard user interface. The F123 series line of 3D printers also incorporates the manual calibration square, but there is an automatic calibration step that is executed prior to the manual calibration without any material loaded in the machine. Calibration is highly recommended when replacing a print head or changing materials.
3D Printing Material Storage
FDM spools last the longest in a cool, dry, and controlled environment. Once opened, an FDM spool can last for up to six months before it starts showing signs of moisture exposure affecting the printing capabilities of the material. Moisture-sensitive materials such as nylon will have a shorter shelf life. Extra steps you can take to make sure the material doesn’t absorb any additional moisture is to use a Ziploc or Mylar bag with desiccant material. A spool of material in the original packaging can have a shelf life of over 18 months, but once you open it, you want to make sure that you take the necessary steps to keep the moisture out.
Flicker and Brush System Adjustment
All 3D printing machines have a brush system that brushes/cleans excess material off the tip of the print heads. This distance is important to ensure the longest tip/head life possible. If the setting of the brushes is set too high, the print heads and the brushes are making too much contact resulting in premature wear. If the brushes are too low, the opposite will happen. The brushes won't clean the material off the tips and material build-up will accumulate on the print heads resulting in a failed print. If set correctly, there will not be a lot of scratching on the white surface of the tip because the brushes are contacting only the tip versus making contact and really digging into that entire tip assembly. A printing head tip should last anywhere between 400-500 printing hours.
Overall Care and Maintenance
F123 3D printing machines purge material underneath the machine. You'll want to make sure that you raise the bed and clean out the material in the bottom of your machine, so it doesn’t interfere with the print job and doesn’t obstruct any moving parts. Fortus machines purge excess material into a waste bucket, but there is still a chance that some material can accumulate underneath the build platform, so you’ll want to raise the build platform and remove any material found there. If neglected, a problem you could run into is that if you're going from a low temperature to a higher temperature material, the low-temperature material that's still in the machine could melt and stick to the bottom of your surface, making it harder to clean afterward. This is not something that's going to directly break your machine, but it is overall cleanliness and maintenance that will ultimately dictate the performance and reliability of your 3D printer.
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