Building a FFF 3D Printer
Just so we are all on the same page, Fused Filament Fabrication or FFF is a type of 3D printing technology where parts are created through a layer-by-layer deposition of a molten thermoplastic. The extruder is responsible for heating up plastic filaments and is fitted with a nozzle that controls the dimeter of the extruded fiber. It may help to think of the extruder as a fancy hot glue gun. In the most common configuration of FFF 3D printers, the extruder is moved around in three-dimensional space through a set of linear rails, carriages, and stepper motors.
Build it Yourself
For those who are experienced with or even curious about mechantronics (the union between electrical and mechanical engineering), building a 3D printer is an obtainable and fulfilling goal. In addition to the feeling of accomplishment, constructing your own 3D printer will save you money while allowing you to design around your specific needs. There are many open-source plans for 3D printers that are freely available online. If you are still undecided on what printer you want to build, then check out Dr. D-Flo’s roundup of the Best DIY 3D Printer Designs.
Do Some Research
Whether you are purchasing a kit or sourcing your own parts for a DIY 3D printer understanding the function of each component will allow you to build, upgrade, and repair your 3D printer with ease. This online guide is accompanied by a YouTube video that walks through the materials, software, and theories that go into 3D printing. Currently, this guide is setup to supplement the video by covering topics in more depth and providing resources for further reading. In the future, the goal is to make this guide standalone, so those who prefer to read articles instead of watching YouTube videos can rely solely on this guide.
Ask Questions and Share
After watching the video and exploring the topics below post your remaining questions to the forum. This guide will be improved based on your questions and comments. After finishing your printer, please consider posting the final product on the forum, sharing your experiences, and answering the questions of others who are in the middle of their builds.
Essential 3D Printing Topics
Explore the topics below for an indepth overivew of all the parts and theories that go into building a 3D Printer.
Precise linear motion is required for 3D printing. Linear rails act as a guides for motion carriages and in some cases, play a dual role as the frame for the 3D printer.Learn More
Cylindrical guides are affordable alternatives to linear rails. Bearings slide along the rods to provide free motion in the direction of the rod.
Carriages ride on top of linear guides, translating their cargo in the direction of the guide. The best carriages provide smooth and low friction movement.
Lead screws and pulleys convert the rotational movement of a motor shaft into linear motion. 3D printers require precise transmission systems to function properly.Learn More
Stepper motors are brushless DC motors that can move accurately without positional feedback. They are a cheap alternative to servo motors.
The way in which the extruder liquifies and deposits filament onto the build platform is the defining characteristic of FFF technology.
The print bed is the surface that the first layer of the print comes in contact with. A heating element and special adhesives can prevent the 3D print from warping and falling off.Learn More
Limit switches are sensors that allow the 3D printers to find the ends of the their linear guides. The most common type of limit switches are triggered by mechanical force.Learn More
The motherboard houses the microcontroller which is the brains of the 3D printer. All of the electrical components are plugged into the terminal or ports present on the board.Learn More
Stepper drivers orchestrate the pulses of current that causes the stepper motor to step. The driving mode of the stepper driver will influence the step size of the motor.Learn More
Microstepping is the process of dividing a stepper motor’s intrinsic full step into many small steps to improve the resolution of the linear motion.
A regulated DC power supply is required to power most if not all of the 3D printer components. 12V and 24V are common voltages accepted by the printer’s motherboard.Learn More
Motors, extruders, and limit switches need to be wired to the motherboard. It is important that the wiring does not restrict the motion of the extruder or pose a fire hazard.Learn More
Firmware runs on the printer's microcontroller and stores printer-specific parameters. These unique values allow the firmware to translate generic G code into real life objects.Learn More
Slicers are software programs that convert digital 3D objects (STLs) into G code, which describes positional coordinates and speeds to the microcontroller.Learn More
Properly calibrating a 3D printer can improve dimensional accuracy and surface finish of prints. Filament feed rates and extruder movement speeds need to be fine-tuned.Learn More
A 3D printer will dual extruders can print multi-material or multi-color parts. However, additional calibrations are needed for seamless switching of the extruders mid-print.Learn More
Filament is plastic feedstock of constant diameter that is fed into the extruder. There are numerous filaments available from reliable PLA to exotic composites.Learn More