3D Printing at D-Lab
Here at D-Lab we have six 3D Printers: five Ultimaker Originals, an Ultimaker 2+ and a WASP Delta Turbo, primarily used for ceramic printing. Our 3D printers are ideal for making:
- pre-production prototypes
- working components
- communication models.
3D printing is not difficult, but it is important to take care when designing the object and when preparing the digital files which tell the printer what to print. In this section you'll find all the information you’ll need to ensure that your file can be printed with the program you’re using. You’ll learn:
- An overview of the 3D printing process;
- how to prepare the files so that the 3D printer can print your design; and
- how to detect and avoid the errors that can arise during the modelling process.
3D Printing - PROCESS overview
3D printing is also known as additive printing, a process in which a three dimensional object is built up by the addition of materials, in fine layers. There are various different technologies, and some of these depend on the material which you are printing, which can vary from plastics to ceramics to metals.
Our WASP Delta Turbo is primarily used to print ceramics, laying down fine layers of ceramic to produce detailed designs and patterns unlike anything achievable on a potters wheel.
Our popular Ultimaker printers use a process known as fused deposition modelling (FDM), in which a filament of PLA plastic is extruded through a heated nozzle in successive layers. The only post processing required is the removal of support material from the completed model, which can be done by hand.
The 3D printing process will produce parts in hard, durable plastic of any single colour. Model size is up to 280 x 150 x 150 mm on an Ultimaker and up to 200mm (diameter) x 400mm (height) for the WASP.
Layer thicknesses can be 0.1mm, 0.2mm & 0.3mm. The larger the layer thickness, the quicker the build. The smaller the layer thickness, the better quality resolution.
Designing your 3D Model
The first step is to design a 3D model. There are many different forms of software available, a large number of which are free. We have included summary details below of a few of them, starting with the simplest and easiest to use:
- TinkerCAD - great for simple geometric designs
- 123D Design - easy to use but powerful. This is our preferred package.
- Sketchup - great for line modelling and curve modelling, and loved by architects and interior designers. This is not free software but a free trial is available.
- MeshMixer - powerful, free software that lets you sculpt digitally and mash different 3D models together
- Blender - a powerful and difficult to use package for polygon modelling
Alternatively, if this sounds to difficult for you right now and you just want to explore the possibilities for printing to start with, then there are dozens of websites where you can go to download free or low cost models ready for printing:
3D Printing - FILE PREPARATION
To print your three dimensional model, you’ll need to convert it into a format recognised by the printer, so that it knows how to slice the the model into successive layers to achieve the desired result.
Our Ultimaker machines need the 3D print file to be prepared in Cura software. We have Cura installed on the Desktop PC in our makerspace digital laboratory, but we'd recommend you download the software yourself and bring a laptop when using our printers.
The file is inserted into the printers via an SD card. Again we have one for general use but you may wish to bring your own.
3D Printing - Avoiding the pitfalls
3D printing is as much an art as it is a science. Unlike printing on A4 paper with a laserjet, there are many more things which can go wrong with 3D printing, and so here are our tips for giving it your best shot.
- Get to know the machine. Experiment, get under the bonnet, and speak to our lab technician to find out about any particular quirks which our printers may have.
- Be patient. Expect the unexpected, and enjoy the journey as much as the destination!
- Beware of wall thickness. Using a thickness that is too small can render a print unachievable.
- Stickiness! It's important for the first layer of the print to stick to the printer bed. Tape, raft supports, or glue can all be used for this.
- File design. Many a print goes wrong because the design was not right in the first place. Double check the design for flaws (inversed polygons, single stops, holes, etc) as they can cause problems.
- File format. Improper file format or a file that's too large can make a 3D print impossible.
- Understanding the software. It's important to note that each 3D printing software has its own set of rules for ensuring that a file is printable.
- Gravity! Think about whether a model needs to defy gravity to print successfully without collapsing. If so, you may be able to get around it by building in support for the structure, which can then be removed later, or you may be able to change the orientation of the printed object.