Whether you try to 3D print large parts or very small parts in high temperature materials like polycarbonate or ABS, the keys to success are excellent thermal management and effective bed adhesion. Successful thermal management requires three essential factors: a full enclosure, sufficient heat, and an effective way to control that heat.
When working with high-temperature materials, it’s helpful to remember that the printed portion of a part is not truly finished being made, just because the extruded plastic has begun to assume its final shape as the print job progresses. Plastic takes time to “cure” and this is especially true when printing large parts in high-temperature materials like polycarbonate, ABS, and Bridge Nylon, which print in the 280-300 degree Celsius range.
The hallmarks of not having enough ambient heat while printing, as well as not properly managing heat while printing, are poor bed adhesion, warping, cracks, and weak layer bonding, which also can result in cracking. Instead, you want a large, properly produced part that exhibits all the desirable traits of the material. That is, after all, the point of printing with high-strength, engineering-grade materials. The part should be smooth, beautifully manufactured, and extremely strong.
To ensure optimal results when printing large parts, you must have superior thermal management: a proper 3D printer enclosure, enough heat to accommodate high-temperature materials, and the ability to control the heat for proper application in varying manufacturing circumstances.
To Print Big, You Need a 3D Printer Enclosure
What is a 3D Printer Enclosure?
An enclosure for a 3D printer is exactly what it sounds like: An outer case, or enclosure, in which the 3D printer’s components can operate in a protected, confined space. The enclosure is usually constructed out of acrylic, aluminum, stainless steel, polycarbonate or, most often, some combination of those materials. The most effective enclosures are integrated with the design of the machine, requiring a door to access the inside of the printer. However, some users opt for a removable, standalone enclosure-box that is simply placed over a printer when needed. Some even attempt to use “tents” made out of fabric. While these may offer some of the benefits of a proper enclosure, a fabric cover is less effective in creating an enclosed build environment for large parts made out of high-temperature materials.
What are the Benefits of a 3D Printer Enclosure?
A 3D printer enclosure provides a number of benefits, heat management being chief among them. By shutting out wind or a cold breeze, an enclosure not only helps maintain the printer’s warm internal temperature, but it also helps keep your print job and machine clean by helping block out dust and dirt particles. In addition, if there is concern over emissions, the smell of extruded plastics, or the noises made by the printer, an enclosure helps alleviate these issues as well.
An enclosure with internal filament storage is also highly beneficial when it comes to creating large prints using HydroFill Water-Soluble Support. Because HydroFill is water-soluble, special care must be taken to keep the filament dry. When running a large HydroFill print that requires days of print time, there is a risk that the HydroFill can be compromised if it is exposed to a very humid environment for an extended period of time. A hot, dry, enclosed build environment, however, will ensure the integrity of the materials during the printing process.
Why is an Enclosed Build Environment Critical for Large Prints?
The most immediate, significant benefit of a 3D printer enclosure is that it keeps heat inside the printer, creating a warm and stable environment conducive to the additive manufacturing of large parts in higher-temperature materials.
Stabilizing the ambient temperature inside the printer allows the even application of heat to the part throughout the printing process. Crucial for creating very large parts out of high-temperature materials like ABS, polycarbonate, most nylons, and other materials, the enclosed thermal environment helps layers fuse together and ultimately helps support the creation of a large, strong part.
Bigger, Stronger Parts Require More Heat
While the overwhelming majority of desktop 3D printers on the market rely only on the print bed as their single heat source, additional optimizations make it easier to produce large, top-quality parts out of high-temperature industrial materials. Chief among these is, simply, to add more active heat sources, which is what we did when we designed the EVO Additive Manufacturing Center.
The addition of two active heaters to the EVO’s enclosure was a pivotal move forward from the design of our previous generation of machines, the AXIOM series. Airwolf 3D saw great success with the release of the AXIOM and its patented enclosed build chamber. The AXIOM series, and particularly the AXIOM 20, were designed to empower users to print large parts. Committed to relentless innovation, the Airwolf 3D R&D team couldn’t help but ask, how can we improve these machines? How do we take 3D printing to the next level?
One of the primary ways we did this was to push the limits in terms of optimizing the machine for large part production. The solution was elegantly simple: Add more heat and a better way to control that heat. In addition to the heated bed, the EVO’s two added internal heaters complete what we call the Tri-Heat Build Environment.
What are the Benefits to a Tri-Heat Build Environment?
Improved Print Quality and Strength
The main benefits to having multiple heat sources in your enclosed build environment is better print quality and increased part strength. As a print forms, layer by layer, the bed and two chamber heaters provide even, constant heat throughout the duration of the print. This creates superior overall bonding throughout the part, especially on the outside of the layers. The result is a more solidly fused plastic part that is stronger and looks smoother.
This is particularly crucial for large prints that, because of their bigger size, are more vulnerable to warping or cracking if they cool down too quickly because a high ambient temperature is not maintained.
Reduced Warping and Part Deformation
Large, high-temperature prints face another issue that illustrates the challenge of proper heat management. In printers that do not have added chamber heaters, you must rely on the bed to provide the adequate ambient heat required to support the production of large parts. The tricky part is ensuring that the bed is hot enough to heat the build chamber, but not so hot that it melts the bottom portion of your print. If you have seen an attempt at a large ABS print that ended up with a warped, bulging base, it was because the bottom of the print melted on a bed that was too hot.
The two added chamber heaters of the Tri-Heat Build Environment go a long way in alleviating and fully preventing this problem. Because of the extra added heat sources, you no longer have to rely so heavily on the bed to raise the printer’s internal temperature up to the optimal point for creating large, high-temperature parts. Instead, you can print with a lower bed temperature and eliminate the risk of overheating and melting the base of the part.
Integrated Filament Drying System
In addition to providing more highly optimized conditions for large prints, the Tri-Heat Build Environment comes with additional advantages. The dry, evenly heated environment created by the addition of extra heaters not only creates an ideal print environment, but also provides an excellent way to dry filament. As mentioned earlier, extremely moisture-sensitive materials like HydroFill Water-Soluble Support require vigilant attention to proper storage to maintain the integrity and usability of the material. For extremely long prints (72 hours or more), Hydrofill will perform optimally when it is kept inside the printer while printing because the heated enclosure will keep it dry.
If for some reason, a roll of HydroFill is left out, unprotected, for an extended period of time, it still can be dried and made perfectly usable again. You can use a heated dry box for this or you can take advantage of the EVO’s enclosed Tri-Heat build environment. Twenty minutes inside the heated build chamber and a roll of HydroFill will be sufficiently dry and suitable for use.
Less Time Waiting
Another, albeit relatively small, advantage to an optimized heat environment is that the desktop additive manufacturing process becomes faster because you do not have to wait as long for the machine to preheat and begin a print. With the addition of the two internal heaters, the EVO preheats in less than half the time it takes an AXIOM to reach the same temperature.
Control The Heat
Once you have the proper hardware in place, you still need a solid software solution to fully manage heat settings when printing large parts. Advanced and new users alike benefit from a slicing program with material profiles optimized for their specific machines. With Airwolf 3D’s APEX 3D Printing Software, for example, we have tried to make it as easy and quick as possible to get started printing. For example, when slicing a model for a large print, simply go to the APEX Quick Settings menu. Choose your material, and your Print Quality settings. In this case, simply choose Large.
Thanks to the preloaded profiles for your machine, our recommended heat settings will be applied to your 3D model during the printing process.
To gain even more careful control over the heat applied to your print, make sure to choose a machine that offers precise, but easy, temperature control during the print. For example, on the EVO Additive Manufacturing Center, we’ve installed a 7-inch, full-color touch screen that always displays the ambient temperature of the machine, as well as the bed and hot end — and allows a user to easily raise or lower the temperatures of each component.
Use the Right Bed Adhesive
No discussion of how to 3D print large parts would be complete without mentioning bed adhesion. Even with superb heat management and dual heaters, you still need a 3D printer bed adhesive to ensure that the part stays stuck to the bed while printing.
To prevent large 3D prints from warping, choose the right Wolfbite Bed Adhesion Solution for your material. A thin coat applied to the glass before starting your print will keep the part stuck to the bed while printing, but then enable easy release once completed and cooled.
With an enclosed build environment, enough heat, and an excellent bed adhesive, you can create very large, single-print parts in high-temperature materials like ABS, polycarbonate, and nylon. For questions on printing large parts or if you would like more information on the EVO Additive Manufacturing Center’s ability to produce large parts, contact us at (949)478-2933 or at email@example.com.