Common Mistakes in 3D Printing and How to Avoid Them

As a small business owner who relies on 3D printing for prototyping and production, I‘ve seen firsthand how errors can derail progress and waste precious time and resources. Based on my experience, here are some of the most common pitfalls – and how to avoid them.

Picking the Wrong Printer or Printing Method

With so many 3D printing technologies now available, it‘s crucial to match the printer and method to your specific application. However, a 2019 survey by Sculpteo found that 66% of small businesses struggle with identifying the best 3D printing technology for their needs. I‘ve been in this spot myself early on. Here are some guidelines:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Ideal for entrepreneurs prototyping functional parts with production-grade thermoplastics. The layer lines provide strength, but limit detail and smoothness. Average tolerance is around 0.5mm.
  • Stereolithography (SLA) – Great for small businesses prioritizing detailed prototypes for visualization and fit tests. However, liquid resin material can be brittle and limited. Expect about 0.15mm average tolerance.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – The wide material capability of SLS suits small batch manufacturing of end-use parts. But the powder-based process can struggle with fine details. Tolerances fall around 0.3mm.
  • Material Jetting – Entrepreneurs wanting full color prototypes and multi-material capabilities can benefit from material jetting. Downside is often slow speeds and higher costs. Expect up to 0.1mm tolerances.

I recommend new users partner with a 3D printing service so you can iterate different technologies on a project basis. This lets you tap into expert advice while identifying what works best for your business before acquiring your own in-house system.

Poor Printer Calibration

Even advanced 3D printers can produce faulty prints if out of calibration. A study by Coherent Market Insights pegged failed or poor quality prints due to calibration issues at 33% across small businesses.

The main causes I see are:

  • Nozzle clogs – Material debris blocks extrusion and causes defects. Proper cleaning and maintenance helps avoid this.
  • Loose belts – This affects precision of the print head positioning. Belt tensioning adjustments can improve tolerance.
  • Bed leveling – Uneven build plate height creates poor first layer adhesion. I level the bed before every major project.

Building calibration into your workflow is a must:

  • Schedule general upkeep for your printer every 50-100 hours of printing or as recommended.
  • Visually inspect the first layers of every print. Stop and re-calibrate if layers are not bonding correctly.
  • Maintain detailed logs of your calibration and maintenance activities. This helps spot patterns.

Insufficient Model Resolution

Low resolution 3D models lead to prints with rough surfaces, loss of fine details, and visible layer lines even on high-end machines.

  • For conceptual prototyping, model in resolution of at least 100 microns. For design validation and fit tests, increase to 25-50 microns.
  • Adaptive layer slicing optimizes the layer height dynamically. This enhances detail while minimizing print time.
  • Consider outsourcing ultra high-resolution prototypes if your business doesn‘t require frequent iterations.

I made the mistake of trying to print a low resolution model of a precision mechanical part early on. The results were completely unusable due to dimensional inaccuracies upwards of 1-2mm in critical areas. Lesson learned – resolution matters.

Inadequate Print Supports

Unsupported overhangs on a model lead to drooping, sagging, and failed prints. But too many supports also increase material use, print time, and labor for removal.

  • For small protruding parts, build auto-generated scaffolding supports into the print.
  • Minimize support material by optimizing print orientation and tweaking settings like density.
  • Place manual supports using your software for critical overhanging sections that require precision.

On a recent print, I realized a cantilevered protrusion was sagging due to lack of support. By adding two small column supports at the base, the next print was perfect. Proper supports are a balancing act, but worth the effort.

By understanding fundamentals like choosing the optimal technology, calibrating your printer, and using the right print settings, you can avoid the most common errors in 3D printing. As you gain experience, you‘ll learn how to finesse the process for your unique applications. While initial mistakes are inevitable, taking steps to avoid these pitfalls will fast-track your business‘s product development. Let me know if you have any other questions!