Like any machine with lots of moving parts, 3D printers need regular TLC to continue to print optimally. In this blog post, we want to go over why it’s important to regularly maintain your 3D printers, and how you can do so to make sure it’s always spic and span and performing its best.
Why does a printer need regular maintenance?
Let’s talk about what can happen with your printer if you don’t keep it well maintained.
You may run into problems such as poor bed adhesion, increased noise during printing, or even faulty wires. These issues can be caused by things like a dirty print surface or dust and debris that accumulates on bearings and rails.
How often do I need to clean my printer?
The answer is: it depends. We all print at different times and different frequencies, so it really depends on how often you use the printer. For example, if you print almost every single day in one month, it should be done every week just to make sure you don’t miss any printing days! If you print a few times a month, some months more than others, then a monthly tune up should suffice.
Generally, at the bare minimum, giving a monthly maintenance to your printer should be sufficient at increasing the printer’s longevity and ensuring its ideal performance.
So now that we’ve hopefully gotten you on board and you just can’t wait to start cleaning your 3D printer, let’s go over how exactly you’ll want to do it.
3D printers sure do have a lot going on; here’s a breakdown of each of the individual parts that we’ll want to do regular check-ups on during maintenance:
Bed (print surface)
Bed leveling system (PINDA, etc)
Bearings, rods, rails, and screws (X,Y, Z-axis)
Here’s our compiled list of things we like to maintain. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just a general guide to think of as far as upkeep on any printer. Make sure to consult with the manufacturer’s manuals and guides for more detailed information. There will also be a list of tools and lubricants that are helpful as well.
How does one give a 3D printer TLC?
First and foremost, you’ll need the following materials:
Paper towels or old rags
Isopropyl alcohol (60% or more)
White lithium grease either spray or cream
Wire brush with brass bristles
We like to start by unloading any filament that is currently being used and set it aside so it doesn’t get in the way of cleaning. While the nozzle is still hot, use the wire brush to remove excess filament that may have oozed out. Next, take a paper towel or rag and apply some isopropyl alcohol and carefully clean the nozzle. This will help with removing any remaining plastic residue and preventing the filament from adhering too much on the nozzle in the future. Once the printer is cooled down from the unloading step, we can begin the surface cleaning of the printer.
Use paper towels or an old rag and wipe down all the surfaces that are collecting dust. You can also use the tweezers or vacuum to remove any stubborn pieces that you cannot reach.
Take extra care when removing the debris on rods with bearings.
Since the printing surface/bed is the part that has the most contact, it always collects oils and other miniscule debris that can cause print adhesion issues. Using another rag or paper towel with isopropyl alcohol, wipe down the bed surface to remove oils, grease, and bed adhesives that may have been used.
Once all surfaces have been wiped, carefully use a can of compressed air or a mechanical air compressor to blow out debris that is stuck in the fans (hot end and cooling fan) of the printer. This will help keep your fans running at the speeds you set them to rather than being slowed down by debris or even blockage that might be present.
The next step is applying the white lithium grease on the rods and bearings. The goal is to coat the rods evenly in the main areas that the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis move depending on your printer. Once the rods have been coated by hand, we can now use the printer settings to move the corresponding axes to apply the white lithium grease to the bearings and rod evenly. Carefully remove any excess that is visible. Verify that there are no crunching sounds when the printer moves. Such sounds could mean that there is still debris that needs to be removed.
The last few items that need to be checked are the bed leveling probe, belts, screws, and the wires. These are often overlooked since they aren’t usually pieces that need to be checked to print every day.
If your printer has screws and/or bolts, make sure that they are properly fastened. 3D printers have a lot of vibration for a stationary device so a bolt or two may get loose once in a while. One easy way to test for this is when printing, listen and look for any excessive rattling. Once you identify a loose screw, fasten it and make sure everything is leveled.
To check the bed leveling probe for your printer, usually the manufacturer has a bed leveling test or calibration test to make sure that all is okay so running that while also testing the layer height is a good test to do while doing maintenance.
For the wires, ensure that all connections are in place and are not loose as this can cause printer malfunction. If there is a faulty wire, use a multimeter to check the connection.
Check if any belts are loose or have no tension as this can affect the performance of your printer. Loose belts can cause skipping in prints so double check to make sure there is proper tension. Refer to manufacturer guidance for exact testing.
After that, your printer is now ready to tackle more print jobs! Again, this is a general guide of how we take care of our printers at our shop so it might not fit everyone but the general concepts can be applied to all printers. Got any other tips you want to share for how you keep your 3D printer chugging along? Let us know!