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The no bull guide to 3D Printing

So I consider myself a smart guy, I’m an Industrial Designer who has spent years learning how things work and go together. I remember using 3D printing back when I was studying Design at University, however, back then we all called it “Rapid Prototyping”. I remember making up some basic kid toy designs in CAD and sending away the .stl file to a specialised company far away to have them transformed into real-life parts. These days there is an abundance of 3D printer stores alternatively, they can be purchased from almost any hardware store, eBay or even office supply stores.

While 3D printing is now super affordable, it’s still not for everyone. The general public is getting more interested in it each day but in all honesty, 3D printing is still not suitable for the average Joe. There are still aspects that ideally need to be understood about the process before jumping in and taking on the world of additive manufacturing.

3D printing repositories. “Great but not so great”

While the world of Thingiverse, YouMagine, and MyMiniFactory have grown over the last few years they are still not great to solve any 3D print model requirements. Don’t get me wrong, I have used 3D model repositories many times to try out designs, materials, or to find a quick solution for something. How much do you really know about the people uploading the models, their designs might not necessarily work on your printer, your settings, material or might not even work at all. Especially if the model is for something which might require some strength or you intend to hang something off it. I would be weary about designs that didn’t specify what printer and settings were used. Always look for photos of finished prints and not just the websites generated 3D model images.

Know what your 3D printer is capable of.

Not all 3D printers are created equal. Accuracy just isn’t the same, and don’t let the price point fool you. I’ve seen some expensive, well-known printers still fail when it comes to making parts fit together or having accurate sizes after the print is finished. The best thing to do is test your printer. Either model or download some test prints to find out the best tolerances to use for loose and tight part fits, spending the time to do 1 or 2 prints now to better understand what your printer will do is better than spending all that time tweaking 0.2mm off the wall of a hole or shaft because the first print didn’t work out as planned.

If you’re new to modelling and what to practice then give it a go yourself. Model your test pieces, export them, print and test fit your options. See you really can do all of this yourself, of course the easier way out is to use those repositories I spoke about and search for calibration or overhang test.

3 3D printers
My current 3D printer setup.

Know the limitations of your material.

What are you using to print your model, PLA, ABS, Nylon, PC or something fancy like metal composite materials? Each and every one of these has different properties and I never believe what the marketing guff says about their brand. I want to test it myself to see if it suits my purpose. My day job has me designing products for the Australian coal mining industry. In some case, our 3D printed part is the actual product that goes out and installed underground or used as part of a larger instrument. PLA is just not going to work in this case, the fact that it will break down over time is simply an attribute that is not desired for this industry. Lately, ABS has been the go, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried other materials. I’m currently trialling PC for some universal joints being used in a measurement application, results look promising. What I'm saying is look at your design, have a think about who it will be used and misused, what environment is it subjected to (sunlight, water, heat etc). Test Test Test… you need to take sections of your model or the whole thing if isn’t too big and try it in the different materials you might have chosen. For example, I might design a new plastic anchor to be used down a small hole in the mines, I have a think about the environment it will be use

d in and quickly decide that because this is going to be a dark and wet environment PLA and metal filaments won't be suitable. With the material I had in stock this left me with ABS or PC. PC might be stronger but I found that I got a cleaner print from using ABS… what the hell I have the opportunity to test both materials. Let’s try the prints.

Insert the pictures of the 2 different prints here.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Keep and Eye out for Part 2.

3 Boxes of different 3D Printer Filament
Different materials for testing