The Joys of 3D Printing – Learning Curve 3 – Designing the Build!

Right!  We’ve worked out all the perfect settings for our printer.   We have the lift speeds sorted out.  We have all our exposure settings sorted out.  We know what we’re doing for safety.  Its time to just hit print, right?

I’m afraid not.  This is where the learning curve can go a bit into hyperdrive.  We have to put 3d models onto a virtual build plate using “slicer” software, and prepare a file for the printer to know exactly what settings to use and the exact pattern of UV light to shine to set every individual layer.  We’ve discussed the general settings we need already, so they should be entered into the slicer software.

Now, if you have a model that is “presupported”, you can simply import that into the slicer software, make sure it fits nicely on the plate, run the “slicing” software to prepare the final output file, save that onto a USB stick, plug it into the 3D printer, and print it!  Huzzah!  We’re pretty much there! (I use Chitubox with the Elegoo Mars Pro, incidentally).

Or are we?

Let’s think back to the first article – costs.  What costs do we  incur with every print?   Resin costs are dependant on the number or size of the models printed, of course.  But the cost of the gloves?  If we can fit two models on the plate to print at once and use one set of gloves to clean then up and cure them safely?  That halves the number of gloves we’d use.  In addition, the running time on the screen is exactly the same for 8 models on one build plate as it is for one model (assuming the same height, of course!).

In terms of cost and efficiency, it’s generally best to print as much as possible on the plate that you think you can print reliably in one go.  All those associated costs per mini just fall massively.  40p of gloves for 8 separate models each is about £3.20.  40p of gloves for 8 models in one go is 40p.  A 9 hour detailed print run for 8 separate models is 72 hours clocked up on the run time of the UV screen (that’s overly simplistic, of course, as much of the time the light is off moving the build plate up and down, but the ratio is true), while a 9 hour detailed print run for 8 models at once is 9 hours clocked up on the screen.  For older printers like mine, the screen is only rated for around 150 hours usage.

So ideally we should be thinking of maximising our prints, optimising the available space and minimising all the associated costs.

So we need to import more models (and for this article, we’ll assume they are all presupported) onto the plate, arrange them to ensure that all the models and supports fit into the build area, that they don’t overlap or conflict, and we may need to rotate them a little bit to fit in easily.

And now we actually can prepare a sliced image, save it onto a USB stick, and try printing it.

Though … a lot of 3d models aren’t presupported.  Or sometimes presupported models aren’t supported well.  So we’ll look at tips and tricks for preparing more complex models on the build plate next article!  The same principles will hold true though – we want to maximise our printing while minimising our costs.   We just have to be aware of quality and ensure we get successful prints too.

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