Like any kind of technical device, a 3D printer works best when the operator performs checks at each time of use, and also performs preventive maintenance at regular intervals.
No service or use without basic knowledge of the 3D printing process can lead to unwanted downtime or failed prints.
The operator should perform basic maintenance and know best practices for using a 3D printer. If you do not have the knowledge, we recommend reading the tips and advice available at https://creativetools.freshdesk.com/ for free or look for a company nearby that may offer training courses.
Note that these steps describe service routines that you normally perform during daily operations. The instructions refer to FFF-type machines
- Clean and check that the drive gear is clean and free from plastic residue - The drivegear grips the plastic filament in a slit that has a light-weight pattern (approximately like a file). During use, small plastic particles can loosen from the filament and fill the grooves in the feed wheel's groove. This means that the filamnt will deteriorate, which may begin to slip, rather than being fed continuously. It is normal that after a certain period of time you need to check this and clean with a small brush if necessary. The drive gear is usually mounted directly on the motor shaft. Check that the drive gear is firmly attached to the motor shaft and tighten any stop screws. Likewise, you should review eventual other slips that may occur in the filament feed mechanism.
- Clear the 3D print tip - In a 3D printer head, the plastic filament is melted at the bottom of a small tip which reduces the filament´s nominal diameter (1.75 or 3.0 mm) to a very small hole that is usually 0.4 mm. It is important that this tip is not clogged (fully or partially) with foreign objects such as dust or other small particles. It may be on the filament surface or sometimes occur inside the filament if it is unclean from the factory. The small tip may be blocked in whole or in part. If this occurs, it is often easy to solve the problem by allowing the plastic to cool to about 100 degrees Celsius and then eject it manually. Then whatever is blocking the nozzle will attach to the filament and will be removed to together with the filament being pulled out. This process is commonly referred to as "Coldpull" and you can read moreabout it in this article. An alternative is that with a thin wire of metal picks up and cleans the small hole from the uncleanness. This video shows how to do this. In rare cases the nozzle may be so clogged that you need to remove it and swap it for a new one. Alternatively, you can also heat the loose tip and burn any plastic stuck. Note that most 3D printers can replace the tips and thus change the diameter of the small hole. It is important to keep in mind that smaller holes (such as 0.1-0.3 mm) make the tip more sensitive to foreign particles. Make it a habit to always use a dust filter to reduce the risk of foreign particles coming with the filament down the extruder. You can print the dust filter yourself and files and instructions can be downloaded here.
- Leveled, flat and clean building plate - The first layer in an FFF 3D print is critical as it must be adhere properly to the surface of the build plate. It is therefore important that the plate is set to be as flat as possible and that it is perfectly parallel to the side and depth of the machine (usually X and Y axis). Also make sure that the distance between the 3D print tip and the building plate is approximately 0.1 mm. This is best achieved by placing an A4 paper between and adjusting to touch the plate and tip. Another very important factor for successful 3D printing is that the surface of the building plate is completely clean and free of oil or dust. Different types of plastic require different types of surface coating on the building plate. PLA plastic can for example be printed on plain glass or plexiglas. ABS plastic must be 3D printed on a hot plate made of polyamide tape (Kapton).
- Stretched belts and lubricated rods - To avoid the model getting unwanted dimensions, it is important to keep the belts tight and that all rods and feeder screws are well-smeared. Use sewing oil or the like.
- Screws and connectors jammed - As 3D printers have many mechanical parts moving and the structure vibrates during operation, it is important that you regularly review all fasteners and make sure everything is firmly seated. Likewise, review all electrical contacts so that no connections are clogged or any cable breaks caused due to wear. It is extremely important that the machine is turned off and the power cord completely unplugged before adjusting electrical connections of any kind. This is especially important for stepping motors, as they can easily damage the stepper drivers if contacts change when the power is on!