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How To Reduce Your FDM/FFF Printing Costs

Recent advances in 3D Printing and the maturation of the industry most likely has led to many of the 60% of users reporting a decrease in cost per part (Sculpteo "State of 3D Printing: 2020").  Print setup has become easier since some 3D printers are closer to plug and play and additionally software/peripherals, such as Mosaic’s Canvas 3D paint Palette + Hub, have made entry into 3D printing easier to implement for the less technologically inclined. However, in order to impact your production results to reduce your own costs there still is a minimal general comprehension of the functions to produce quality output and reduce print costs.  Before you decide to attempt any changes you will want to assess your comfort level based-on your skill-level, access to required technical capabilities, and the technical limitations of your equipment. There are three primary areas that you can adjust to reduce the costs of your prints:

  • Efficient and Enhanced Design  
  • Printer Use, Maintenance, and Selection
  • Filament Selection and Storage 

Each section will address general issues you can encounter but given the myriad options for each category please always make certain to verify the manufacturers information about the printer and/or supplies you use. Furthermore, any changes you make  will often impact considerations in other areas so you will want to carefully design your product from the start and review any impact the changes will have on other items. 

Design

Everything to reduce your costs starts with design efficiency. Design efficiency can remove much of the wasted time and wasted resources you will encounter. How to improve the design varies greatly on what you are printing. Efficient design can let you reduce the amount of support material you need, and prevent wasted or weak prints. Other areas of improvement include multiple material use and combination manufacturing. All these tasks will vary on the object and your comfort with the task.

Support Reduction

The 3D software you use can let you customize and efficiently place the support structures that your printer will place. Makers Muse has this fantastic demonstration showing this process. Not only can this save on wasted filament but you will save time on the post-process removing the excess material which means less time sanding and painting the final product. Not to mention possible destruction in the post-process . 

Include Multiple Materials

A similar concept is by designing to include softer materials layers at the reduction point which make the removal of supports more convenient. Joel Telling (3D Printing Nerd) talks about doing this with a Palette 2 and Canvas 3D where he discusses inserting a PETG support layer to facilitate easier removal and less post-process time. However this process may increase the overall material waste because of the transition/purge tower. 

Incorporate Combination Manufacturing

Combination process concepts (CNC, 3D Print, Laser Cutting , Etc) added in your design can also reduce the time, filament used, and post-processing effort required for your print. You may be able to eliminate certain portions of your product to reduce or avoid the printing process and be easier to craft with one of these other processes. For example Joel Telling reviewed Diabase H3 printers that were setup for multiple manufacturing processes. 

Efficient Infill

Infill is the amount of filament within the finished product. Most software tools have a way of applying just a percentage of infile, print completely solid, in a support pattern, or remove the infill completely. There are times when you can do without infill and increase the thickness of the shell. You want to take precautions with the changes as you can weaken portions of your output. You can reduce infill but a more advanced option of "Smart Infill" demonstrated by Stefan at CNC Kitchen might be a better path. The CAD analysis calculates and adapts your product to reinforce in positions of need. Another benefit is the program will reduce structures so your overall filament use and print time.  Stefan also demonstrates many of the test processes to consider when developing your product and after requisite changes. 

Printer Optimization

There are many options for improving your printer's efficiency. As with any machine you need to perform regular printer maintenance to reduce problems this includes basic items such as cleaning, tightening, and calibrating the printer. There are several different configuration areas to manage such as print profiles and specific print modes. Lastly, the 3 W’s (which material to use, where to use, and why that particular material) along with the how’s of filament pre and post process. 

Printer Setup and Maintenance

Many of these items will vary depending on the make, model and type of printer you have. Always check with the manufacturer for recommended maintenance and updates before making changes. Teaching Tech has a very in depth video on calibrating your printer and an excellent website that walks you through the process up to the point of downloading the profile. In the video, Michael’s examples show much of the waste can be detected and eliminated. However, Tom Sanladerer makes a good case for taking care in over-emphasizing these types of tests. The Teaching Tech site establishes a custom printing profile as part of the calibration process.  

Profile and Firmware

Profiles can be custom created. Users can publish their own profiles for public use in community forums or sites and many manufacturers have custom profiles specifically for their printer.  Firmware updates can add additional features, such as new material printing capabilities and printing modes, and remove errors.  Regardless, just as with calibration, updates to your firmware or profile can improve your printout, and reduce wasted filament. Also run the test prints to check the new settings match (Temp too high or low etc, flow rate, etc) after any changes.  

Print Modes

Some printers have specialized print modes that improve certain types of print that can reduce the cost of your print. These special modes can also be added later via firmware updates. In addition to modes and print efficiencies updates can add new filament printing options. 

Filaments

A finished product requires proper selection of material to be used. Pre and post process of the materials is also vital. You will also want to ensure that the printer can use the best material(s) and how to use them. 

You also need to consider that the printer is capable of printing the types of filament(s)  that are best suited for your project.  Protolabs Selection Chart will help you select the correct filament. Another consideration for the printer is whether it is multi-extruder capable or adding a peripheral such as Mosaics Palette 2. 

Storage 

Filaments can be impacted by improper storage. Environmental factors such as temperature and humidity can cause the material to not adheise properly, weaken, or product stringy prints. PLA, for example, is sensitive to humidity and will need to be stored in a dry location and/or dehydrated prior to use.  

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