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Is FDM 3D Printing Your New Hobby?

So right now, you are in a state of euphoria, you are rushing home with a huge box that came from somewhere in China sitting in your trunk.

Halfway through the assembly of your new 3D printer, it comes to you, the flashes of countless hours of research on different models and features all the prices from different companies. How do I even start operating this machine? At least that’s how this journey started for me. The excitement I had and the anxiety I got waiting for my printer to arrive very quickly became frustration and disappointment because I couldn’t figure out what the root of the problem was.

For starters, let’s get some points straight before you even consider which printer to buy. Am I ready to get my hands dirty and burnt? What’s my knowledge of electronics?  How good am I at troubleshooting? How stubborn am I? If you have a negative response to any of these questions or if you hesitate for a moment just run as fast as you can from this idea. So once we have got this out of the way, let’s see some basic terminology introduction: FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, the extruder heats up to temperatures over 190 degrees, and the heat bed up to 60 degrees and sometimes it gets clogged, and you will be forced to interact with the pieces at these temperatures.  I’m going to guide you to the basics of troubleshooting and possible issue solving.

Let’s start with your budget; the more money you have at your disposal the better features you get, features like auto-leveling and autoloading don’t sound like much, but truly make the difference. Also, if the company is open-source friendly or they manage their software privately makes a difference between you upgrading your software or hardware as you please or having to see what upgrades are available. Once this is figured out and the printer is assembled in front of us. Just remember, it is an FDM 3D printer plastic when hot expands and it contracts when cold, so this may sound unimportant but place the printer somewhere you don’t commonly use the AC. This is to prevent your prints from failing due to thermal stress.

Having the printer and location figured out, let’s get to the basic configurations. Basic stuff like leveling the bed even if the printer has auto-leveling is important, and never forget to have the bed and the extruder up to temperature. Other important tweaks might be autotuning the bed and hot end PID, calibrating the extruder, and depending on the slicer you use you will have to make a series of adjustments on them to improve your print quality. Just keep in mind this is not rocket science but can be extremely frustrating. As I like to say, the satisfaction of success is never that pleasant.

Just remember that starting a new hobby might be more challenging than expected, but this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the entire process and the struggle. Jumping into the world of 3D printers can be more fun than expected and the community is not only huge, it also is welcoming to all newcomers. Forums and blogs are overflowing with information, and in case you are more of a visual person, the community has found a great spot in YouTube videos to continue spreading as much knowledge as possible. Taking all this into consideration, I encourage you to get your new 3D printer and begin printing all these awesome figures and sculptures from your favorite games and movies and I can only hope you enjoy the journey as much as I´m enjoying it right now.

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Francisco Osorio

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