Fail Of The Week: How NOT To Smooth A 3D Print

Many of the Fail Of The Week stories we feature here are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. At worse, gears are ground, bits are broken, or the Magic Blue Smoke is released. This attempt to smooth a 3D print released far more than a puff of blue smoke, and was nearly a disaster of insurance adjuster or medical examiner proportions.

Luckily, [Maxloader] and his wife escaped serious injury, and their house came out mostly unscathed. The misadventure started with a 3D printed Mario statue. [Maxloader] had read acetone vapor can smooth a 3D print, and that warming the acetone speeds the process. Fortunately, his wife saw the looming danger and wisely suggested keeping a fire blanket handy, because [Max] decided to speed the process even more by putting a lid on the pot. It’s not clear exactly what happened in the pot – did the trapped acetone vapors burp the lid off and find a path to the cooktop burner? Whatever it was, the results were pretty spectacular and were captured on a security camera. The action starts at 1:13 in the video below. The fire blanket came in handy, buying [Max] a few seconds to open the window and send the whole flaming mess outside. Crisis averted, except for nearly setting the yard on fire.

What are we to learn from [Maxloader]’s nearly epic fail? First, acetone and open flame do not mix. If you want to heat acetone, do it outside and use an electric heat source. Second, a fire extinguisher is standard household equipment. Every house needs at least one, and doubly so when there’s a 3D printer present. And third, it’s best to know your filaments – the dearly departed Mario print was in PLA, which is best smoothed with tetrahydrofuran, not acetone.

Anything else? Feel free to flame away in the comments.

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A Trove Of 3D Printer Filament Test Data

We’re not sure what a typical weekend at [Walter]’s house is like, but we can probably safely assume that any activity taking place is at minimum accompanied by the hum of a 3D printer somewhere in the background.

Those of us who 3D print have had our experiences with bad rolls of filament. Anything from filament that warps when it shouldn’t to actual wood splinters mixed in somewhere in the manufacturing process clogging up our nozzles. There are lots of workarounds, but the best one is to not buy bad filament in the first place. To this end [Walter] has spent many hours cataloging the results of the different filaments that have made it through his shop.

We really enjoyed his comparison of twleve different yellow filaments printed side by side with the same settings on the same printer. You can really see the difference high dimensional tolerance, the right colorant mix, and good virgin plastic stock makes to the quality of the final print. Also, how transparent different brands of transparent actually are as well as the weight of spools from different brands (So you can weigh your spool to see how much is left).

The part we really liked was his list every filament he’s experienced in: PLA, ABS, PETG, Flexible, Nylon, Metal, Wood, and Other. This was a massive effort, and while his review is naturally subjective, it’s still nice to have someone else’s experience to rely on when figuring out where to spend your next thirty dollars.

Metal Casting With Single Shelled PLA Masters

[3DTOPO] does a lot of metal casting (video link, embedded below). That’s obvious by the full and appropriate set of safety gear, a rarity on YouTube.

They had all the equipment to do it the normal way: craft or CNC out a master, produce a drag and a copy, make any necessary cores, and finally; pour the mold. This is a long and tedious process. It has a high rate of error, and there is a parting line.

Another set of methods are the lost ones. With these methods the master is produced out of a material like foam or wax. The master is surrounded by refractory and then melted, burned, or baked out of the mold. Finally the metal is poured in. Theoretically, a perfect reproduction is made without ever having to open the mold.
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Improving 3D Printed Gears with… Hot Water

Being able to print out custom gears is one area where 3D printing can really shine, and [Karl Lew] has been busy doing exactly that with pinion gears printed in PLA and mounted to stepper motor shafts, but there are tradeoffs. Pinion gears need to grip a motor shaft tightly – normally done with a screw through the gear and onto the motor shaft. But a motor and its shaft can get quite warm when doing a lot of work, and a tight screw on a hot motor’s shaft will transmit that heat into the PLA, which can then deform.

[Karl Lew] managed to improve things in an unusual way: using a hot water bath to anneal the gear while it is attached to the stepper shaft. Annealing PLA has the effect of increasing the crystallinity of the material, which – according to an article going into some detail about the process of annealing PLA – increases stiffness, strength, and heat deflection. The annealing process also shrinks the part slightly, which happens to result in a very tight joint made between the gear and the slotted stepper shaft if the gear is annealed while connected to the motor.

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Colored Filament From a Can

On the last day of MRRF, the guys from Lulzbot were printing a vase with some clear Taulman t-glase on their TAZ 6 prototype. It was probably the third or fourth one they had printed, but I was compelled to go over there because they were painting the filament with a blue Sharpie right before it went into the extruder.

It immediately made me think of this video that hit our tips line last fall and fell through the cracks—a short one from [Angus] at Maker’s Muse about creating your own colored filament by spraying clear PLA with cheap spray paint. This is a neat alternative to painting a finished print because the color isn’t going to rub off. The pigment fuses with the PLA in the hot end, providing consistent coloring.

Disclaimer time: [Angus] ran his spray-painted PLA through a WANHAO i3, which is a cheap, modified Prusa that actually has pretty good reviews. The point is, he doesn’t care if the nozzle gets clogged. But the nozzle didn’t clog. Nothing bad happened at all, and the prints turned out great. As you can see in the video after the break, he tried silver and blue separately on short lengths of filament, and then alternated the colors to make the striped Marvin in the main image. [Angus]’ main concern is that the paint probably affects the strength of the print.

Have you tried spray painting filament? How did it go? Let us know in the comments. If you long to print in any color on the cheap but don’t want to seriously risk clogging your hot end, there’s always the drilled-out Sharpie method.

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MRRF: Tasty Filament from Proto-Pasta

Alongside printers from all walks of manufacturing, one can naturally expect to find people selling different kinds of filament at a 3D printing festival. One of these purveyors of plastic was Proto-pasta out of Vancouver, WA. Proto-pasta prides themselves on unique offerings and complete transparency about their manufacturing processes.

Almost all of their filaments are either PLA or HTPLA with something special added during extrusion. The menu includes steel, iron, carbon, and finely ground coffee. The coffee filament was one of our favorites for sure. The print they brought with them looked solidified light roast and had a transparent kind of lollipop quality to it. I couldn’t detect the coffee scent due to allergies, but [Alex] assured me that printing with this filament will make your house or hackerspace smell terrific.

[Alex] was giving away samples of their stainless steel composite PLA. This one can be polished to a smooth shine with a series of papers that run from 400 to 8,000-grit. Another of their newer offerings is PLA infused with magnetic iron particles. Prints made with this stuff can be rusted to achieve an antique, steampunk, or shabby chic aesthetic.

Proto-pasta also has an electrically conductive composite carbon PLA. This one is great for capacitive applications like making a custom, ergonomic stylus or your own game controller. According to the site, the resistivity of printed parts is 30 ohms per centimeter as measured perpendicular to the layers, and 115 ohms along the layers.

Have you made anything awesome with conductive or magnetic filament? Have you had any problems with unorthodox filaments? Let us know in the comments.

Ask Hackaday: Is PLA Biodegradable?

The most popular plastic for 3D printers is PLA – polylactic acid – a plastic that’s either derived from corn starch, inedible plant detritus, or sugar cane, depending where in the world it was manufactured. Being derived from natural materials, PLA is marketed as being biodegradable. You don’t need to worry about low-poly Pokemon and other plastic trinkets filling landfills when you’re printing with PLA, all these plastic baubles will return to the Earth from whence it came.

3D printers have been around for a few years now, and now objects printed in PLA have been around the sun a few times. A few of these objects have been completely forgotten. How’s that claim of being biodegradable holding up? The results are mixed, and as always, more data is needed.

A few weeks ago, [LazyGecko] found one of his first experiments in 3D printing. In 2012, he was experimenting with tie dying PLA prints by putting his prints in a jar filled with water and blue dye. This jar was then placed in the back of his cupboard and quickly forgotten. 3.5 years later, [LazyGecko] remembered his experiment. Absolutely nothing happened, save for a little bit of blue dye turning the print a pastel baby blue. The print looks and feels exactly like the day it came off the printer.

[LazyGecko]’s blog post was noticed by [Bill Waters], and he has one datum that points to PLA being biodegradable. In 2015, [Bill] printed a filter basket for his fish tank. The first filter basket worked well, but made a small design change a week later, printed out another, and put the first print in storage. He now has two nearly identical prints, one in constant use in a biologically interesting environment, the other sitting on a shelf for a year.

[Bill]’s inadvertent experiment is very close to the best possible experimental design to make the case for PLA biodegradability. The 3D printed filter basket in constant use for a year suffered significant breakdown, and the honeycomb walls are starting to crumble. The ‘inert’ printed filter basket looks like it just came off the build plate.

If that’s not confusing enough, [Bill] also has another print that has spent a year in a fish tank. This end cap for a filter spray bar didn’t see any degradation, despite being underwater in a biologically active environment. The environment is a little different from a filter basket, though; an aquarium filter is designed to break down organics.

To answer the question, ‘is PLA biodegradable,’ the most accurate answer is, ‘maybe’. Three data points in uncontrolled environments isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. There are, undoubtedly, more forgotten 3D prints out there, and more data to back up the claim of PLA being biodegradable.

This is where you come in. Do you have some forgotten prints out there? Your input is needed, the fruits of your labors are evidence, your prints might be decaying and we want to know about it below.