3D Printer Maintenance. The Ultimate Checklist!

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: October 26, 2021

Any manufacturing equipment, irrespective of its part in the manufacturing process, needs maintenance services after hundreds of hours in use.

3D Printer Maintenance

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Therefore, you need to put your 3D printer out of operation to initiate the maintenance process.

3D printer maintenance services ensure that the printer runs well and performs as intended. Also, doing proper maintenance decreases incidences of failed prints, enhancing the 3D print quality.

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Additionally, the machine downtime period can be minimized if not eliminated.

The time and effort you put into maintaining your 3D printer will help you to save hours of troubleshooting. Also, it may save you days, weeks, or in the worst-case scenario, even months of waiting for the arrival of a spare part you ordered.

Maintenance services remain a sure way for you to guarantee your safety as you use the 3D printer. A well functional printer presents you with a lesser risk of printer accidents.

Furthermore, most manufacturers will provide you with small checklists to help guide you on machine maintenance whenever you buy their printers.

This article will help you appreciate how you can organize your 3D printer maintenance activities for better print outcomes.

How Do You Maintain a 3D Printer?

Assemble Your Tools

As a 3D printer enthusiast, you need to have your toolkit, an essential component of your 3D printer maintenance undertaking. The toolkit will include maintenance pieces of equipment such as:

Types of 3D Printer Maintenance

You can conduct your 3D printer maintenance service in two distinct ways:

1. Preventive maintenance

When you engage in routine tasks that ensure your machine runs smoothly and reduce chances of unexpected failure, it means you are involved in preventive maintenance.

Notably, the frequency of preventive maintenance will depend on how frequently you use your 3D printer. The more you print, the more regularly you will conduct the maintenance.

2. Planned Maintenance

On the contrary, planned maintenance takes place less often, and it’s not about routine checks, as is the case with preventive care.

Moreover, it involves some complex tasks meant to increase the 3D printer performance.

Preventive 3D Printer Maintenance Services

a) Inspection and Basic Cleaning

It would help if you took your time to check and inspect your 3D printer thoroughly. It will give you an idea of whether you need a simple clean-up or whether something severe that needs your attention has come up.

If you develop a good habit of regularly cleaning your 3D printer, you will save it from cases of severe technical breakdowns.

You need to check the printer’s electrical cables and connectors for any damage. Also, confirm whether the wires are tightly connected to the printer and the electrical sockets.

You need to ensure that the hot nozzle end and the heated bed remain in good working condition.

You need to frequently check the hot end and the heated bed as both remain critical components that use a lot of currents. Thus, making them vulnerable to the risk of catching fire.

Always re-tighten loose ends and the entire hot end with components like the nozzle, the hot block, the heat break, and the heat sink to ensure the machine remains firm whenever it operates.

b) Check 3D Printer Moving Parts

The 3D printer’s linear guide or lead screw enables an effortless motion along the axes. So, if you properly maintain it, you end up getting improved print quality.

Additionally, the 3D printer’s metal moving parts, such as the linear rods and rails, can cause mechanical friction, leading to severe overheating. In a worst-case scenario, the overheating can cause friction leading to a fire outbreak.

Therefore, you need to check that all moving parts function well and if they need lubrication, do it right away. Lubrication helps machine parts move well, so lubricate the lead screws to get optimal printer functionality.

Always apply enough lubrication; a drop or two will do as excess lubricants may gum up and collect dust or even grime.

Aligning the 3D Printer Belt Tension

The Belt Tension remains a critical component in controlling the moving parts of a 3D printer, and most printers use them in at least two of its axes.

To work efficiently, you need to tighten the belt tensioners properly (belt tension guide MK3/S). Also, if the belt remains loose, it can slack and lose teeth. This way, it remains incapable of responding to sudden changes in speed and direction.

If you fail to attend to this challenge, you will encounter layer shifting and backless issues. Furthermore, the printer will manufacture dimensionally defective 3D prints.

Cleaning the 3D Printer Nozzle and Heat Block

The nozzle remains one of the most critical parts of an FDM 3D printer. So, it would help if you give it close attention. Surprisingly, most 3D printing hobbyists tend to ignore it until the nozzle clogs up.

The FDM 3D printing process leaves the printer nozzle quite dirty, and the blobs can damage the final print.

Also, printing with a dirty nozzle can make the printer emit awful plastic smells that can be hazardous to your health (how to clean your 3d printer nozzle guide).

Always try to keep your printer brass nozzle clean to get the best results from your 3D printer.

To clean your printer nozzle, heat it and deploy a wire brush to remove any filament material stuck inside the nozzle after successive printings. Alternatively, you can use small pliers or even a thick cloth to remove filaments trapped in the brass nozzles.

If you suspect a clog, turn the nozzle temperature as high as you can and feed through any high-temperature filament like PETG or ABS (view on Amazon). It will help clear the clog.

If you fail to clean your printer nozzle, you will have to deal with extrusion issues like under and over-extrusion, nozzle oozing and clogging.

Check 3D Printer Build Platform

In FDM 3D printing, the issues surrounding the first layer adhesion remain critical to the overall success of the process.

If you fail to get a proper first layer adhesion, parts may detach as you continue printing. Also, print corners and edges may readily warp.

Always keep your build surface clean as dust and grime accumulates fast in your printer’s bed.

Cleaning Your Build Platform

You can use cleaning alcohol such as the IPA (view on Amazon) to clean your dirty glass bed. Another common remedy remains the use of glue sticks (view on Amazon).

However, glue sticks tend to accumulate in thick layers, and this will force you to scrape and wash the build plate with soap, preferably in a sink.

If you opt to use tapes or unique adhesion stickers, keep in mind that they tend to get damaged, and replacing them in due course will suffice.

Once you finish cleaning your build platform, always endeavor to level it up.

Ensure the 3D Printer Filament Remains Clean

Depending on your storage capabilities, dust gathers on filaments, and these tiny particles may quickly go unnoticed. In the end, they negatively impact print and nozzle functionality.

Proper storage helps keep dust and moisture away from the plastic filaments. Otherwise, dust gathers so fast on filaments that are already fed in the machine.

Most 3D printers come with sponge filament filters attached to the filament before the extruder. It serves to collect the dust as filament passes through it.

You need to check on the sponge frequently to ensure you replace the dirty ones with clean sponges.

If you fail to clean your filament, you will end up with oozing and nozzle clogging issues. Also, you will face friction build-up on Bowden tubes and stringing due to the use of moisture-filled plastic filaments.

Check Extruder Gears to Improve Print Quality

Frequently checking the state of your extruder gears remain an excellent preventive maintenance practice that will help you improve your print quality.

During printing, small chips may get stuck inside your extruder. It proves vastly problematic when the filament chips get stuck on the extruder gear as it’s the tool that holds the filament spool.

Consequently, it causes inconsistent extrusions and filament spillage. If this happens, you will need to disassemble the extruder to remove the stuck filament chips.

Then, you will need to follow it up by using canned air to blow out all the remaining chips stuck in the extruder.

Schedule a Thorough 3D Printer Cleaning

This planned maintenance operation targets cleaning the machine’s inner parts, such as the electronic boards, fans, and extruder gears.

It is a deep and thorough cleaning process of the inner parts that gather dust and may go unnoticed because they are covered.

Moisture and organic material remain destructive to the electric boards and fans as it impairs their performance. Dirt also builds on the extruder gears rendering them ineffective.

Check Your 3D Printer Firmware Updates

It would help if you kept checking your printer firmware updates, preferably after every six months.

Manufacturers offer updates periodically, but each would do it at their own specified time. Also, it’s generally regarded that most manufacturers update their firmware at least after every six months.

The act of checking for your firmware updates to consider whether you will update or not remains a maintenance act in its own right.

You can also check your slicer for updates as well as maintained slicers since they improve printer features.

Why Do You Have to Maintain Your 3D Printer?

As a 3D printer enthusiast, you need to maintain your printer to ensure it works well. It would help if you avoided situations like your 3D printer breaking down when you most need it.

If you properly maintain your 3D printer, you expect to produce high-quality prints that meet your specific needs.

Printer breakdowns remain an expensive proposition, and as a 3D hobbyist, you wouldn’t want to keep buying printer spare parts all the time because you have neglected to maintain the machines periodically.

Also, faulty 3D printers pose risks of mechanical damage, and you may quickly get hurt while handling malfunctioning printers.

Faulty machines make so much noise, and it may not be healthy for you as some 3D printing processes take hours or even days to be completed.

3D Printer Maintenance Cost

Printer maintenance cost varies according to the specific 3D printer used and how the hobbyist handles it. If you take proper care of your printer by frequently conducting its maintenance, you tend to spend less on it.

But if you neglect your machine and only wait to repair it when it malfunctions, you tend to spend more on it over time.

The average maintenance cost for a 3D printer in the United States stands at $275 per year. It’s a figure that includes electricity charges and filaments fees.

If you use 3D printers that use 60 – 80 Watts, working 500 hours in a year, your electricity will cost you only $8.

Related: How Much Power Does a 3D Printer Use?

Additionally, regular filaments, the PLA and ABS, cost an average of $25 per kilo. If you print 500 hours, you will need 8 kilos, so your filament expenditure will be $200.

Top 10 Tips to Maintain Your 3D Printer [Checklist]

This remains the ultimate checklist of top tips on how to maintain your 3D printers for optimal use and superior quality prints:

  1. Continually lubricate your 3D printer
  2. Keep your build platform clean and tidy
  3. Maintain extruder cleanliness
  4. Always tighten up the pulley screws
  5. Keep the filament nozzle clean
  6. Keep updating your printer firmware
  7. Replace the printer build surface area
  8. Replace printer dust filters
  9. Keep printer extruder clean
  10. Replace old and broken printer parts

Conclusion

You need to undertake printer maintenance frequently to allow your machine to work well and serve you for the unforeseen future. Also, 3D printer maintenance brings numerous benefits to hobbyists and makes it something worth pursuing.

If you regularly conduct machine maintenance tasks, you will end up producing high-quality 3D prints while saving machine downtime, something which remains costly to you as a hobbyist.

In the final analysis, 3D printer maintenance services remain cheaper than repair fees.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.