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Trials and Tribulations of 3D Printing

3D printing

It's been around 3 months since we started offering in house 3D printed prototypes. The rationale behind launching the service was to support those in our customer base that are constantly innovating and coming up with new and exciting products. Our aim was to help customers cut their development times and give them realistic samples of their extrusions on a fast & free basis.

Qiditech 2So in our first foray into the complex world of 3D printing was the purchase of our Qiditech 2 printer. We wanted a relatively low cost 3D printer to dip our toe into the water and measure our success (or otherwise) in providing quality samples for our customers. We selected the printer for its large build volume, dual extrusion capability and it's touted easy operation.

Well, the results are in - it's a hit. Since purchasing our printer we've created more than 30 models for new and existing customers who have given lots of positive feedback about the service. For some it has given them the confidence in their design to proceed in laying down tooling and a couple are now in possession of the bulk material from their first extrusion order.

We've managed to achieve dimensional accuracy of around +/- 0.2mm with our first printer and a fairly consistent procedure for producing CAD models, exporting files, and getting them printed to a reasonably quality. All that said we had some issues with the reliability of the print process and consistency of the settings, of course we only ever dished out the best quality prints but we were wasting lots of time getting to the best result.

Our biggest issues were:

  • Build plate adhesion - the models need to be stuck firm and fast to the build plate but we'd get 2 hours into a 6 hour job and the model would pop right off the plate and get covered in plastic spaghetti - not good! We tried hairspray, glue sticks, tape, double sided tape... it just got messy.
  • Super thin walls - some profiles were simply too small for the resolution of the printer so couldn't be produced properly and models would be brittle or patchy.
  • Elephants foot and warping - when you are printing with hot plastic how the model cools is super important. Too fast and the model shrinks causing warping, too slow and the model sort of spreads before it's cooled causing an elephants foot. We struggled to get the right setting for the right model.
  • Build plate leveling - in order to ensure an accurate print and proper build plate adhesion the plate the model is built on needs to be consistently 0.2mm or less away from the print nozzle across its surface, no easy feat with just manual screw adjustment.

We figured that their must be a better way. Another challenge was that we could only produce samples 130mm tall and as you all know in the extrusion world length of the sample is an important factor. Time for an upgrade.

Ultimaker 3 ExtendedWe decided to invest in a top of the line Ultimaker 3 Extended. Billed to solve all of the problems and provide us with a support network for the trickier models. The new machine has automatic build plate leveling, a glass bed (so no sticky adhesives required) and 20 micron layer resolution for super detailed samples. It can create whopping samples of up to 210x210mm up to 300mm in length.

It's much easier to operate as the manufacturers have created an entire ecosystem around the product, from print materials to a software package for slicing 3D models in the best way for the model of printer we have. It recognises what material is loaded and adjusts its own settings to suit.

The results are superb, much better quality models with tighter dimensional accuracy and so far a 100% success rate in terms of print completion. We haven't lost any models. No warping or elephants foot it is fantastic. We've spent a great deal of time printing of extrusion prototypes for an aluminium greenhouse being designed in house for our garden buildings business, Norfolk Greenhouses. The new models are perfect, we've encorporated screw ports, holes, miters, and more. We've successfully modeled a cut down model of the frame, eaves, roof and door to our new greenhouse.

We are currently preparing the formal launch of our new service, now that initial trials have successfully completed. We will be offering free 3D prototypes to anyone that approaches with a project they would like developed and costed. Keep your eyes on the blog for more information.

Find out more about our free rapid prototypes

Had any similar problems or novel 3D printing ideas? Comment below.