Design Experience that Matters: Handy Tools for Working With 3D Printers


Here at Design that Matters we do a lot of 3D printing, so we’ve built up this collection of handy but inexpensive tools for supporting our 3D printers. They live in IKEA silverware caddies mounted next to the machines and they just make the work go easier.

1. Super Lube synthetic grease for the build plate lead screw (the lube supplied with most machines gets used up quickly). A single tube of lube lasts for ages. 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Cheap cutting pliers for trimming PLA spools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Metal feeler gauge for consistent results when manually leveling the printer build plate (Makerbot Rep2 works best when the 0.2mm gauge just fits between nozzle and build plate).

 

 

 

  

4. UHU glue stick for securing prints to build plate (useful even with heated build plates). This works better and is more convenient than covering the build plate with blue painter’s tape.  

 

 

 

 

5. Window scraper for removing glue residue and stubborn PLA deposits from build plate. 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Cricut craft spatula for un-sticking prints. We’ll create a little gap under the print with the window scraper, and then lever the rest of the print off the build plate with the craft spatula.  Bonus: we’re less likely to stab ourselves. 

 

 

 

 

7. iFixit metal spudgers for scraping off and digging out printed support material and other defects.

 

 

 

 

  

8. Cheap dental picks for removing support material from internal cavities.

 

 

 

 

 

9. Steel tweezers for getting gunk off the extruder nozzle without melting fingers.

 

 

 

  

 

10. We also have a couple self-healing cutting mats taped to the table next to the machine so we can fuss around with scrapers without scarring the tabletops or damaging the build plates. 

 

 

 

 

A Few More Items:

We’ve mounted an appropriate set of Allen wrenches on a 3D-printed bracket attached to every machine. 

To reduce filament-jams in our oldest machine, the trusty Replicator 2, we printed and mounted this filament guide from Thingiverse on the back of the machine:

Image by FERDYP

For storing PLA, we were delighted to discover that even the big Makerbot-brand spools fit perfectly inside a standard 5-gallon bucket. To prevent humidity from spoiling the PLA, we snap a Gamma Seal Lid on top of the bucket and throw in a handful of silica gel desiccant packs before we screw it shut.

Stay Tuned!

After a productive four years with our Makerbot Replicator 2 (and a frustrating two years with our Makerbot Replicator Gen5), we just upgraded to a Lulzbot Taz 6.  We’ve started experimenting with new filament materials and a heated printer bed.  

We find that glue sticks are still useful for first-layer adhesion, although for exotic materials like nylon some consider generic PVP-based glue sticks more effective than UHU sticks. We still prefer the combination of the window scraper and the spatula for unsticking prints. The new filament spools also fit in our airtight 5-gallon buckets for storage. The biggest change is that we no longer need the feeler gauge, given that the Lulzbot has a self-leveling bed.

Do You Have Any Tips for Us?

We’re still learning how to get the best results from our 3D printers for the least amount of effort. Some machines create rafts (print bases) that are tedious to remove. Although we’ve had success sanding parts with paper or a Dremel, the resulting smooth parts very quickly look grubby (something about dust and oil getting into the seams). For high-quality aesthetic models, we haven’t found an alternative to the laborious process of: bondo, sand, primer, paint, clear-coat. Have any of you come up with a better solution?

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This “Design Experience that Matters” series is provided courtesy of Timothy Prestero and the team at Design that Matters (DtM). As a nonprofit, DtM collaborates with leading social entrepreneurs and hundreds of volunteers to design new medical technologies for the poor in developing countries. DtM’s Firefly infant phototherapy device is treating thousands of newborns in 21 counties from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. In 2012, DtM was named the winner of the National Design Award.





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