Whether using 3D printing for business or for personal projects, nobody wants to have to re-print a part because of a flaw that happened during printing, especially if it could have been easily prevented. We’ve put together five key areas to monitor to avoid common print quality issues in order to achieve consistently better results.
Monitor Your Materials
3D printing materials are extremely shelf-stable for the most part, but believe it or not, precision materials do have an optimum shelf life to make sure that the final print delivers the functional results promised on the outside of the box. In some cases, this is monitored with a chip on the actual material container that talks to the printer. In other cases, it can be as simple as a “best by” date stamped on the material spool. Every material is different and will react differently over time. This is why it is always good to read its datasheet for any special instructions. Even the same type of material made by two different suppliers can have subtle differences, although the same best practices typically still apply.
It is important to store materials correctly to prevent them from degrading over time. Always refer to the datasheet for the specific material you have for any special care instructions. When exposed to harmful elements for long periods of time such as moisture, heat and UV rays, the following problems can occur: air bubbles, increased brittleness and breakage, diameter augmentation, a higher temperature needed during extrusion and weakening of the tensile strength. In some cases, the material may not even load properly.
Build Tray Handling
It is very important to be aware of how you handle the build tray for your printer job for a couple of reasons. First, you should not touch the surface you are printing on with your bare hands as oils from your skin can remain on the build substrate, which can lead to low adhesion in the area of your fingerprint. (This typically only becomes an issue with certain specialty materials or print settings). Seems simple enough, but avoiding touching the build surface is something that people often forget about between jobs as they are reaching for a new tray out of the box.Second, you should always store your build trays laying horizontal to prevent possible warping over time, since you want them to remain as flat as possible. If you have trouble installing a rigid tray, try warming the tray upside down on the build platform for several minutes.
Keep It Clean
One of the easiest forms of printer maintenance is simply keeping your printer clean. This is an important step to ensure quality prints that is often overlooked. You can use a small hand vacuum to clean the various debris or errant purge material from the build chamber and around the printer itself which can prevent these unwanted particles from getting trapped in between layers of printed material. This is probably the easiest thing you can do in a busy shop or office that will have a huge impact.
Also, taking care of your print heads and tips is critical to produce smooth and accurate layers in your print. For PolyJet printers, this involves adhering to the recommended purge cycles and head cleaning schedule for the materials you are using. For FDM printers, this usually involves ensuring that your tip wipe is calibrated and working properly. A tip wipe that is not functioning properly will drag strands of material in your model and could stop the build if the error is large enough.
Using a Purge Part
For printers that don't include an automatic purge cycle, it's always a good idea to include a purge part for your print. Doing this offers better control of purge material (conditions the liquefier) which ensures the best part quality throughout the print. The added time and material used is typically negligible, especially compared to having to re-print a highly detailed part. To minimize the effect on your overall print time, place your purge part close to the first part in your pack or next to the tallest part.
It probably goes without saying that for printers to operate at their best, it is vital to follow the suggested guidelines for printer maintenance. Make sure that you have downloaded a copy of the current printer user guide and have it available to reference when needed. (Some shops print out a copy and leave it by the printer). It can be helpful to designate someone who will oversee maintenance, keep a maintenance log book and keep track of inventory and the expiration dates of materials and other consumables.
If you are having issues with printing, following these simple steps should help solve the problems and improve the overall quality of your prints. It is worth taking the time before you even begin printing so that you end up with the kind of prints that you desire and keep your printer functioning properly.
For further information about either your PolyJet or FDM 3D printer, click on the buttons below and download our quick-reference printer maintenance checklists.