Understanding Nine Advanced Features of 3D Printing You Need To Know

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By Kerry Stevenson on January 5th, 2024 in Ideas, news

Tags: advanced, closed loop, features, flow rate, high speed, high temperature, lidar, odometer, vibration

The latest 3D printers offer a slew of new features, but which ones are important?

I’ve been working with desktop 3D printers for more than 15 years, and the past year or so has been quite different — and dramatic.

For a whole decade, desktop FFF 3D printers were somewhat basic. They often came in rough kit form which needed some degree of assembly, and they required significant tuning and care.

Starting from the very first models that actually caught on fire, the technology has gradually gotten better each year. In truth, some of the first desktop FFF machines would promote that their motion system “came with end stops”, or “included a control panel” (a number of systems didn’t have any at all).

Indeed, how times have changed. Over the years we’ve observed the slow integration of numerous features that are now essentially standards, for example:

These, and a few more features, are practically a given today: in reality, you can’t market a FFF 3D printer these days lacking the basic set of features.

Despite the progress, the process of innovation never ceases, and fresh features constantly emerge, particularly in the most recent years.

So, what are these sophisticated features? Which of them are crucial and need consideration when buying a machine? Here’s a glimpse at what I deem as the top advanced features of today’s FFF 3D printers.

Enclosed 3D printers help in trapping heat, thereby lessening the temperature gradient between the surrounding environment and the extrusion temperature. Simply put, they help to minimize chances of warping. While most enclosures passively maintain stray heat from the hot end and print plate, there are active heating print enclosures that consist of dedicated hardware for warming up the chamber and keeping the heat consistent.

3D printing jobs rely on a steady and expected amount of material extruded from the nozzle for the print. However, this isn’t always the case. Certain scenarios might involve inconsistent filament shaping, regions of varying density, etc. An advanced feature includes real-time monitoring of the material flow from the nozzle and subsequent adaption to these conditions. This can yield impressively precise prints and is highly sought after.

High-speed printing can be achieved through the combination of suitable motion systems and two crucial features. These features address the inherent problem of toolhead vibrations when changing direction rapidly, which significantly affect print quality. By identifying and countering these vibrations, these features, in turn, enhance print quality at high speeds.

Closed loop systems are such that they involve components that report back to the system about their current status. An instance of this would be if a 3D printer’s controller commanded a 5mm movement on the X-axis, did the device indeed move 5mm? Unfortunately, most systems operate on the assumption of accurate movement without knowing for sure. However, a closed loop system feeds the controller the exact position, allowing for adjustments if required. This ultimately results in more reliable operations and improved print quality.

Although no set standards exist for this particular process, it proves to be extremely helpful. For certain manufacturers, it’s feasible to insert RFID chips into spools, permitting the machines to identify the type of material directly. If this is not possible, the operator must ensure the fitted spool meets the job specifications. Automatic filament detection avoids any possible mismatch.

While numerous 3D printers come with filament out detection, this only signals if filament is present or not. However, it doesn’t indicate whether the filament is in motion.

A system known as the filament odometer closely monitors filament movement in 3D printers. Its purpose is to identify if the filament’s movement slows down, which may be a result of tangling or other complications with the filament. This function boosts the reliability of the printer.

Every extruder and hot end pair has a capacity threshold: the maximum volume of material that can be extruded within a specific time. This is measured in cubic millimeters per second, and you’ll find that standard printers operate at around 10, while more advanced models can achieve the 20’s or even 30’s.

The principle here is that faster printing demands more material extrusion per second. Although it’s feasible to set a printer to produce thin layers at high speed, it doesn’t really deliver any extra material. Instead of focusing on the speed at which the toolhead moves, one should prioritize high flow capacity.

Previously, the only filament materials that desktop printers utilized were PLA and ABS, and later PETG. Nowadays, numerous unique materials are available, some of which exhibit high glass transition temperatures. To print these materials, a high-temperature 3D printer is required. You can identify these printers by reviewing certain specifications such as maximum hot end temperature, maximum plate temperature, all-metal hot end, and chamber temperature.

Various methods have been utilized by desktop 3D printers to level the print plate. The leveling process gauges the imperceptible contours of the ostensibly flat build plate, enabling the machine to adjust to them.

The common practice has been the use of different sensors attached to the toolhead. Most people opt for force sensors or touch sensors, while a few prefer magnetic methods.

The latest trend, however, is the use of LIDAR, a light-based radar system that projects an array of light points, accurately measuring the distance to each. Some cutting-edge desktop 3D printers have begun using LIDAR as their sensor for plate contours, resulting in extremely precise and detailed maps for improved first layers.

These are what I regard as essential advanced features of current desktop FFF 3D printers. Are there any additional features we should append to this list?

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Kerry Stevenson, also known as “General Fabb”, has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since the establishment of the venture in 2007. His goal was to propagate and foster the growth of the amazing technology of 3D printing all over the globe. And until now, it appears that his efforts are fruitful!

The term “LIDAR” does not actually represent true LIDAR. In reality, LIDAR functions by calculating the duration taken for light to journey from the emitter and back to the receiver after deflecting from an object. The type of sensor that Bambu Lab applies is a laser triangulation sensor. However, they chose to term it as LIDAR because it sounds more appealing. Consequently, some have begun to refer to it as LieDAR.

Ironically, a laser triangulation sensor is ideally suitable for the job, since it is typically used to assess down to micrometer (micron) scales. In contrast, the depth resolution of LIDAR is approximately 10 cm due to the challenges in precisely determining the transit duration of the light.

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