Quick Tips: How To Get Started With Batch 3D Printing
Utilizing 3D printer time most efficiently is much easier once you start batch printing parts to maintain 3D printer uptime and minimize downtime.
3D printers have widened the scope of what is able to be manufactured; from high-detail one-off 3D designs to small-production products, they have made it much easier to streamline the prototyping and manufacturing process for hobbyists and industrial designers alike. While 3D printers excel with the highly customized 3D models, they still fill the ever-present niche of a small-scale manufacturing device capable of producing consistent parts, that can even be iterated on the production line, for a fraction of the cost of injection molding; batch printing. With some careful tuning and considerations, every printer can be capable of batch printing and producing the same parts over and over with consistent results. Let’s get started!
Making the Right Choice
Before you even get started, it’s important to consider if batch printing is the right choice for you and your 3D models.
- By batch printing, you minimize downtime for your 3D printers. By starting a batch of prints at 4:30 before you head out the door for home, you can have a 16 hour print of 12 different parts continue and finish without your presence, and when you return in the morning, the print job is just finishing up and ready for you to pop off the parts and start another batch that will finish around 4:30 again.
- Some models have layers with a small cross-sectional area, which will be detected by the slicer and automatically slow down those layers to give the filament adequate time to cool down. By increasing the number of models on a print bed, you increase that layers cross-sectional area and speed up the print. Sometimes you can find that printing just two of the same part takes as much time as printing one!
- If you print by SD card or USB drive, you can have all your batches saved and organized by length of time to optimize your printing order. And by printing untethered, you can copy and paste the same gcode to all your printer’s (as long as they are the same make and model).
- Not only is downtime minimized but attention as well. Instead of getting up and swapping build plates, adding adhesive, or even just checking if your prints are finished you can focus on your other work, set a timer, and come check on the prints every so often, knowing that the print jobs are going to last 6 hours each.
- Failure rate is a bigger concern than with one part being printed at a time. If you have one part fail, no problem that’s only a couple hours and a little bit of filament. If one print starts warping or completely detaches from the build plate, you now how to gamble with canceling the print or leaving it and hoping the rest finish okay. Sometimes they do and that one only knocked a couple more off, and other times that one slip up cascaded into catching on another piece and layer shifting everything.
- Filament usage needs to be better monitored. Sure the spool looks and feels like it’s really full, but if you check the gcode you might find out your batch print is going to take 850g of filament. Running out of filament will cost a lot more in time and material than one part running out.
- A level bed is supremely important to your success. With one print and a slight skewed bed, you may not notice the skew, but with parts from edge to edge, it will quickly become apparent if the bed is not leveled correctly. With a tilted bed, parts will easily pop off and become a much bigger problem, as mentioned previously.
All that said, most of the big 3D printer manufacturers rely on batch printing in some form if they have 3D printed parts on their machines; Lulzbot calls their printer farm “The Cluster” and utilizes a form of Octopi to keep everything in line.
Before you start batch printing, here’s a good checklist of things you can do to help your chances of success.
- Make sure your slicing profile is well-tuned. Any sort of retraction issues, zits, blobs, or under extrusion is going to compound as each part progresses, potentially creating one big build plate of wasted time. Take the time to check through our Top 10 Calibration Prints to see what we do to make sure our machines are ready for anything we throw at them.
- Over time the adhesive you use on your bed surface will need to be reapplied to keep parts sticking. If you use an adhesive like glue stick, Magigoo, or Stick Stick, completely clean any residue from the build plate (usually a quick splash in the sink and a credit card to squeegee off the glue works well), then without overdoing it reapply the adhesive in a crosshatch pattern on the entire bed.
- Check that your bed is level by running any bed leveling calibration wizard that your printer has or by printing out a large rectangle to cover the entire bed and adjust the bed’s level on the fly. Or if your 3D printer has an automatic bed sensor it should be able to reliably print on a bed of any angle and maintain the same distance between the nozzle and the bed across the entire surface.
- Keep track of your filament weight. If you followed along in our previous video, you should have started keeping track of your empty spool weight so you can know how much material you have on a spool at any time.
- Consider adding a filament sensor to your printer if it doesn’t already have one, as it can help mitigate but not remove the risk of running out of filament. Not all filament sensors are created equal and some can fail to trigger if the filament gets caught, jams in the hotend, or the trigger itself jams. Some manufacturers tape the end of the filament to their spools, which you won’t see until it’s too late and jammed itself in your printer.
- Does your 3D model have any thin parts you’re worried about tipping over? This may be a good time to add a brim to keep everything locked down. Even if this adds more time to your post-processing than you’d like, it’s a trade-off to ensure a print sticks down and minimizing the failure rate the print job.
Once you feel ready and prepared, start slicing and run a batch print that you can be nearby to keep an eye on in case anything isn’t working as expected. I would encourage you to wait until you have had a couple of successful batch prints with your 3D printer before batch printing unattended.
If you don’t have a printer that you can trust to batch print or are looking to find a new printer altogether, take note of any printers that have a large bed.
Single Extrusion and Traditional Dual Extrusion
The Craftbot XL is a great single-extrusion solution for batch printing with its huge build plate and print height, giving you a lot of freedom to batch print or print larger objects down the road. Dual extruder 3D printers that have both nozzles mounted to the same head like the Raise Pro2, Ultimaker S3 or S5, and the Lulzbot TAZ PRO can’t use both nozzles at the same time, so they are effectively single-extrusion 3D printers for batch printing, however, due to their large build plates and robust construction, printing a lot of parts at once is a common use case for these machines.
IDEX Batch Printers
The Craftbot Flow IDEX and IDEX XL, Raise E2, BCN3D Sigmax and Epsilon all feature IDEX toolheads, which means “Independent Dual EXtrustion.” Each of these printers has two nozzles, but they ride on different carriages, effectively putting two printers in the same chassis. Since each of these is on the same X-axis crossbeam, you are limited to printing in exact duplicates or mirror mode, however you are still able to use these two nozzles for separate dual extrusion printing with two colors, two materials, or one material and a support material.
If you’re in an industry or business that relies on 3D printing to create some part of a finished product, being able to maximize efficiency and uptime becomes a pressing issue, and hopefully with this quick tip you are one point closer to achieving the best your farm can be. Are you batch printing already and feel like I didn’t mention something that you find important to your production? I’d love to hear about it in the comments down below and educate both myself and other users. For those of you about to start your first batch print, best of luck!
Happy batch printing!