3D printers are tame beasts when it comes to their service requirements, but there are a few things you shouldn’t miss!
How do you keep your 3D printer in perfect working order? It’s certainly a lot less work than servicing a car, but most machines do require a bit of care every now and then. Let’s make sure you get all the important spots.
AprintaPro reached out to me for this sponsored videos series to be featured on their PrintaGuide platform. Launching this month, it’ll be home to 3D printing tips, tricks and guides. Check out AprintaPro and the PrintaGuide site at the links in the video description below!
So i like to think of 3D printer maintenance as an incremental job – there are a few things you should check before every print, and then there are some that deserve a bit of attention roughly every time you finish a spool of filament. Let’s start with the things you should check before starting a print and during its first few layers, just gloss over these points to make sure you’re going to have a successful print. First, cleanliness. Check the hotend for any boogers that might have been picked up from earlier prints, especially around the nozzle, and pull them off with some tweezer, if necessary after heating the hotend. If you’re careful not to burn yourself, you can also use a cloth rag to lightly wipe down the nozzle. Check for debris or small bits of the previous print still stuck to the printbed and remove them. Transparent filament is particularly tricky here. Also make sure that there are no plastic bits stuck in the belts, on the linear rails and if your machine has good view of the hobbed gear, check that it’s also clean and not clogged up.
Next up, give the bed surface a quick look. While you can find the full episode on how to get your prints to stick up here, this is the compressed version: If you’re using a bare surface without any additives, make it sure it’s clean and not damaged, and especially after touching the surface to remove a print, a quick wipedown with alcohol won’t hurt. Spray-on or wipe-on adhesives can last many print, but in either case, make sure they are still providing a smooth surface without any gaps or holes, and in case of doubt refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular adhesive.
What is also a good idea and only takes a quick glance is checking the wiring situation, especially around the hotend and the joints of moving elements. Check that everything is still in the correct places, can’t get caught in the print you’re about to start and that the insulation of the wires is still intact, meaning that it’s neither frayed nor cracked.
And before you hit that print button, take a glance at your filament spool: Is it the right material, is the filament tangled and is there enough filament on the spool? If all those questions have the same answer, fix those issues before committing to a print. Fun fact: If you’re having issues with your filament unwinding improperly and you’re using a separate spool holder, try giving your printer and the holder a bit more distance. That will smooth out the printer’s movements and make sure it’s not pulling the filament off sideways.
So with these thing covered, you’re basically ready to start a print. As soon as the first layer starts, pay attention to how well the lines stick – if you can already see individual lines lifting or curling inwards, chances are your print is going to fail down the road. The same goes for the nozzle digging through earlier lines. This is mostly a thing of experience, try and learn what a good first layer looks like and your should be able to confidently leave your 3D printer to itself while it finishes the job. Of course, i’m not going to judge you if you prefer getting hypnotized by the machine and watching the entire thing.
So there are a few deeper checks you should do roughly whenever you finish a spool of filament, and those mostly cover mechanical wear on belts and rails. The first “service” of a new machine should be a bit more thorough, as many parts break in, so let’s start with that. Particularly screws that tighten down onto plastic parts can often use a re-snugging after a few weeks of use. The grub screws in the belt pulleys and in the hobbed gear are also likely candidates to loosen up over time, and diagnosing these can be tricky, so why not give them a bit of torque and make sure they are tight.
Now, when it comes to belts, we’re also talking about parts that will slightly stretch over the first few prints, especially on cheaper machines that use cheaper belts. They will have completed the largest part of their stretching over the first few weeks under tension, but it doesn’t hurt to periodically check their tightness. Now, what exactly a tight belt should feel like is entirely dependent on what machine you’re using – longer belts will always feel sloppier under the same tension as shorter ones, and depending on how your machine is built, the tension you want is also going to vary. But as a starting point, you can tune your belts like the E-string of a base guitar.
Next up, bearing, and these will vary in quality and type from printer to printer. But any bearing should fit two core parameters, that is that it actually guides whatever it’s carrying and doesn’t just wobble around, and also does so smoothly and without creating a ton of drag. If you grab the moving parts of your 3D printer, typically the hotend and the bed, and try to rock them back and forth, you might feel a bit of slack. While, ideally, the bearings should have zero play, a small amount of slack is usually acceptable. If you – carefully, this might damage the electronics if you go too fast – move teach axis back and forth, the movement should be smooth and not have any tight or jerky spots. Now, if you find that the bearings are too loose, jerky or just don’t feel right, there are a few things you can do: One, check the alignment of the bearings. If they run smoothly on their own, but seize up as you tighten their holders, it might simply be due to the bearings being forced out of axis. Two, regrease everything. And yes, even drylin bearings profit from some extra lithium-based grease, but linear ball bearings are the typical candidate here. I prefer thicker grease, which is what quality, linear bearing that seal against the shaft come with, though when regreasing cheaper ones, you do have to make sure that it actually gets to the bearing balls inside the bearing, which usually means taking them their shaft. Or you can use an oil, anything that’s labeled as a machine oil and isn’t too watery should work and be able to make its way through the mostly useless seals on most linear bearings. Though keep in mind that you’ll have to re-oil the bearings more often that way.
And if none of that helps, you might need to replace a bearing or two or a shaft that is worn down, and while neither of those are particularly expensive parts (links in the video description), it is usually a bit of work to replace them, so keep them in good shape before you have to do that.
And one last thing to check is the hotend itself, first off whether it’s leaking or not, if it is, assuming it is a quality hotend, it’s probably just assembled slightly wrong. And after you’ve cleaned off that nozzle, give the nozzle’s bore a good look, and preferably compare its size and shape against a fresh nozzle. While even brass nozzles last a long, long time if you’re only printing PLA, you might find the bore becoming asymmetrical or enlarged if you’ve printed any sort of particle-filled materials, even wood-filled filament can wear out a nozzle. If you’re seeing anything wrong with it, just swap it out, it’s guaranteed to make your prints crisper and more accurate.
So, let’s quickly recap, before every print, check for debris, make sure the bed surface is usable, glance over the wiring and make sure your filament is in working order. Once the print has started, inspect the first layer and you should be able to confidently leave the printer to itself. And after each spool you use up, check the bolts, belts, bearings and bore and you should have your 3D printer in a great spot for the next 100 hours of printing.
Now if you think i’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below, again, this is just the stuff that i think applies to any printer.
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