Understanding a 3D Printer: An Overview of 3d Printer Components

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Understanding a 3D Printer: An Overview of 3d Printer Components

Owning and operating a 3D printer is an extremely exciting and rewarding experience, but it can also be quite confusing.  In the past few years, the marketplace for 3D printing has grown exponentially, and the technology has evolved and become more complex.  

That being said below we will introduce you to a few of the different styles of 3D printers available on the market, what style might be best for you, and the different 3d printer components!

Different Styles of 3D Printers on the Market

As I mentioned previously, the past few years have seen tremendous amounts of growth in the 3D printing market.  With this growth, quite a few number of printers have entered the market. When you’re first looking for a 3D printer you will most likely have a handful of questions.  

You might have some of the following questions as you begin looking at 3D printers:

• What are the differences between different 3D printers and the different styles of 3D printers?
• What features might you need on your first 3D printer?
• What build volume might you need?
• What are all the individual components of a 3D printer, and what do they do?

 That being said, don’t worry!  We will cover these questions and more below, and help you fully understand all you need to know about a 3D printer!  

3d printing components

Comparing a Wanhao Duplicator 6 & a Wanhao Duplicator i3: Movement Type

When looking at these two different printers, you will notice that they are shaped very differently, with the Duplicator 6 being much larger, and more square shaped.  Although the Wanhao Duplicator 6 has a different gantry system (Moveable framework which controls the printing) than the Duplicator i3, both of these printers share the same components.  

Both of these printers build models up from layers, they both use basically the same hot end system, they both use the same kind of belts, same kind of motors, and one you get down to it, they really aren’t all that different.

Duplicator i3 Movement Style: Cartesian Style Movement

Both of these printers do exactly the same thing, but they both do it in different fashions.  As you can see with Wanhao Duplicator i3, it uses a gantry system in both the X, Y, Z axis. The print moves in the Y direction (forward and back), and the tool head in the X (left and right), which helps to form the model off of that movement.  

This type of movement is generally considered simpler than the movement style of the Duplicator 6. It has fewer parts, it’s generally easier to work on, and is a little more stable.

Duplicator 6 Movement Style:

In the Duplicator 6, the movement is slightly different.  With this printer, the tool head moves in both the X and Y axis instead of just the Y direction like on the i3, and the print bed moves in the Z direction.  Both system accomplish the same thing, but in a slightly different way.

This movement type is more advanced than the movement type of the i3. This movement type is a little more enclosed, has a slightly smaller footprint, and has a little more rigidity.  When you are selecting what type of printer, you really want to look into the different type of movements it has, and if these movements will fit your needs.

Components and What Makes Up a 3D Printer: Gantry and Movement Components

When looking at a 3D printer you might be asking yourself, what are all the components, and what do they do?  Below we will go through the countless components of a printer, and give you an overview of what they do!

Print Surface:  This is where the print attaches to the bed itself.  This is where the print is actually built.

Gantry System:  The frame structure that supports and carries the printer head along the X/Y axis as the printer head moves along printing the model on the print surface.  

Linear Motion System: These linear rails ensure that the motion back and forth, or side to side is precise and consistent throughout the printing process.  This system works together with the gantry to move everything into the right place at the right time. It also works with the Linear Bearings, which help to ensure that the print head can slide along the rails while still being held into place.

Frame System:  The frame system refers the to the entire outer frame that holds the entire printer together.  

Timing Belts: Belts in between the Gantry System rails, these are very precise belts that attaches the Stepper Motor (extremely precise motor), which helps to add the precision movements to the gantry system.

Stepper Motor: Powers the movement of the Gantry Systems.  These motors are extremely precise and they are in charge of the precision in the adjustments of movement from the Gantry System.  Different printers have a different number of stepper motors, Cartesian movement printers generally have more.

Both the Duplicator 6 and the Duplicator i3 have the same components.  They both rely mainly on the gantry system and linear rods to help maneuver and guide everything to the right areas.  

That being said, the Duplicator 6’s print bed stays stationary and only moves in the Z axis, while the gantry maneuvers the tool head (print head) in the X and Y axis.  

Printing Components

Now that we’ve talked about all the intricate pieces involved with creating the precise movement that is needed for the gantry system, we need to talk about the parts of a 3d printer extruder!

The main component in printing is the Tool Head.  Tool heads come in many styles and variations.  We have a direct drive system, bowden systems, single and multi extruder models.  All of these models basically do the same thing. Think of the system as a hot glue gun, we are basically taking a roll of filament out of a hot glue gun tip onto the build platform to create our models.

The tool head consists of a number of different components.  The main component is the Extruder Motor. Attached to the extruder is the extruder gear.  This gear has a number of teeth on it, as we push the filament through the extruder gears teeth, it helps to funnel the filament through the hot end of tool head tip.  

The hot end of the tool head tip features the following zones, the Cold Zone which keeps the filament cold before it is forced through the hot extruder, then we have the Heat Break which is a thermal area where there is a sharp transition between hot and cold.  

This zone features a fan which helps to ensure the sharp temperature change. The next zone is the Cartridge.  This block of aluminum has a heater cartridge on the side which ensures that it gets extremely hot, extremely fast.

 The final zone is the Nozzle, which can range from 0.2 millimeters in size all the way to 1.2 millimeters or larger, depending on the printer.  That being said, with larger nozzle size comes a decrease in overall build quality, and the rougher the prints will be.  

The nozzle size is definitely a tradeoff you have to consider before you begin your project. If you are looking at large projects where the quality won’t matter as much, you should definitely look at a larger nozzle diameter because it is much faster, but quality will suffer compared to a finer nozzle size.

The Print Surface

One of the last components of a 3D printer, but definitely not least, is the Print Surface.  Each 3D printer will have slightly different print surfaces, and they come in a variety of different styles.  

Some of the different styles of print surfaces are Heated Bed, Unheated Bed, Removable and Fixed.  Along with this, the materials that we print on also vary.  

Heat Beds: Heated Beds are designed for exotic filaments (Like ABS or PETG) which need a constant surface temperature.  This constant surface temperature helps to ensure adhesion during the print. Each filament will specify if you need a heated bed or not.  If you’re using a PLA filament you can get away without a heated bed.

Removable Build Surface: A flexible or magnetic sheet which you can attach and remove from your build surface.  It’s great because it allows you to remove the surface and bend the sheet to remove your model project.

Types of Surfaces (Material):

Build Tak (Polycarbonate): A large sticker that has a very fine surface that adheres well with most filament.

PEI (Polyetherimide): Gold colored film, extreme ease of use because it features “No-Surface-Prep”.

Final Thoughts on 3D Printers and 3D Printer Components

Overall as a beginner, 3D printers can be extremely confusing, and it seems that there is a never ending list of terms and component names.  In this guide we covered a handful of different components and 3d printing parts that you might see as you’re looking at purchasing a 3D printer.

I hope this guide has helped you understand some of the differences in styles and functions of 3D printers, and also helped to give you some guidance on what features and components you might need for your specific needs!