Experienced users of 3D printing have a number of tips and tricks to get good results. Often overlooked, but critical to a good build, here are a few tips to help you avoid common 3D printing errors.
1. First, work with a good 3D modeling software
It might seem obvious, but a program that fits your application is critical for a good result. More 3D modeling programs arrive every day to help users of 3D printing get the best results. A little research will indicate the right one for your application.
2. Select a material that will fit your project
The range of materials available for any type of 3D printer and project continue to grow. But the right material will make a difference in how your project turns out. Nearly all vendors list their materials and their material properties. Consider whether you need a material for prototyping, show-and-tell, or finished product. Consult with the material vendors as needed to learn about your desired material.
3. Know the design guidelines of the 3D printer
Every brand of 3D printer has specific guidelines to follow that will smooth the printing process.
The application engineers with service bureaus know a great deal about how their machines operate. They are always willing to give you the information you need, so follow their guidelines. In some cases, they will correct common errors for you, but it’s a good idea to understand their corrections and learn from them.
Guidelines to keep in mind include knowing the minimum spacing, clearances, and wall thicknesses of your design, and knowing what the selected 3D printer can deliver. For materials, learn the desired mechanical and isotropic properties. Check to ensure all parts of your design can be printed. If you have internal spaces, for example, make sure excess build material can be removed.
4. Mend your files
Before sending a file to a 3D printing service, use a software program that examines the file, such as Netfabb, Meshlab, or Magics to fix any issues that might prevent a good build.
5. Watch internal or hollow spaces
A common problem is not designing an escape for excess material inside an object. 3D printers make building round and spherical objects so easy. But, be sure to design a way that build material, like powder, held inside a sphere can exit. Solutions include putting holes in the part, or hollowing, to let excess material out. A side benefit is that this will reduce the weight and therefore the cost of the part because it will use less material.
6. Pay attention to part details
When designing features on your part, how small are they? Less than 2 mm? What about the width or length? Does the part barely meet the minimum? Those features are at risk for breakage, or potentially even not printable, depending on the 3D printer you are using. Thickening them is one way to address the issue.
Following recommended guidelines will help reduce the number of iterations needed to obtain a successful print. Some service bureaus offer online tools that will highlight features of a part that may be too fragile to print.
7. Part orientation
More than most other factors, how a part is oriented on the build table is critical to a successful part. Building a part along the Z axis may or may not save material. But it could very likely result in an easily breakable part. Building a part along the X-Y axis can deliver stronger parts but could add time to a build.
Part orientation affects in-fill pattern choices as well, which can ultimately affect the strength of the final part. Service bureau application engineers can offer good advice here.
8. Why are you using 3D printing?
3D printing is an excellent solution for many situations and applications. But it is not the answer to everything. Prototyping is an excellent use of this technology. R&D is also a good use of it. Even some manufacturing applications are suited to it.
As users explore 3D printing’s capabilities, more applications will emerge. Keeping abreast of the technology and consulting with experienced users can offer more ideas for consideration.