Solutions From Seattle Maker Faire

There is PLA plastic clogging my extruder. Luckily, Maker Faire was this weekend in Seattle, so I brought my hot end and asked for help. This is what the piece looks like, complete with red plastic stuck in the top It was also a good chance to scope out a bunch of 3D printers in operation to get an idea of things to do to mine, like get an 8×8 piece of glass and blue painters tape to make my build platform a little better. I also asked around online and got some ideas, too. There were three suggestion categories for solving this: push it through, pull it out, and replace it.

The simplest suggestion is to buy a new hot end. Solidoodle sells the entire assembly I have taken apart for $60, and people mentioned that for about $100 I could get a much better hot end. Having a replacement hot end would keep my printer from being offline for long periods of time while fixing a broken hot end. It also might allow me to make an upgrade to my printer, at one booth they mentioned that the hot end that came with the solidoodle was not as nice as on the more expensive printers, and it’s a modular part I can upgrade.

The next suggestion that came up a few times was to find a way to push the plastic out. Generally this involves plugging the hot end back in and letting it get to temperature, and then use something to push it through. Either using a firm piece of plastic or other thin rod to push through the top with brute force, or the trickier but most likely to work alternative of heating up something, and then using that to push and melt the plastic through.

The final suggestion type that people had was to find a way to pull the plastic out. One suggestion on accomplishing this is to, after heating the hot end itself up, heat a thin metal rod up, and push it into the plastic through the top, then wait for it to cool off and pull it out. Repeat until most of the plastic is pulled out. Another suggestion was to use a very thin drill. The drill would probably melt the plastic from friction, and then once drilling stopped, the plastic would solidify and cling to the drill bit, which could be pulled out with plastic attached.

At this point this leaves me in the position of choosing where to start. I might try pushing the plastic out first, the plastic snapped off when trying to pull it out originally, so pushing it in might be better than pulling it out.

I also asked about PLA versus ABS at a few booths. Some people swear by PLA and love it, some people hate it. The people who liked it mentioned that where you source your plastic from is important, I might just have bad, more difficult to work with PLA. They also mentioned that it works well once you have all your temperature settings perfect, and I had not honed mine in yet. People like it because you get less warping than with ABS, you don’t need heated build platforms, or an enclosure, and I guess once you have your printer at the point you get consistent prints, PLA is easier to keep consistent than ABS. PLA seems better if you like making your 3D printing process a bit of a spectacle, open air and visible so people can watch it work, which is especially useful for events like Maker Faire. I might switch back to PLA again in the future, but for now ABS does me well, and I’ve already built an enclosure and already have a heated build platform.

 Today’s action items are:

  • Remove stuck plastic from hot end using one of the above methods.
  • Get glass and painters tape for build platform improvement.
  • Figure out good sources for plastic and printer supplies online. The plastic I’m getting off Amazon might not be as good quality as elsewhere, and I would like to upgrade my hot end.

Joseph Stankowicz is a software engineer who has worked in the video games industry for over eight years. The last two years have had a heavy focus on Unity development, where he helped ship over eleven titles to iOS and Android platforms. He also is really excited about 3D printing, and keeps his Solidoodle 3 printing out stuff as often as possible. You can view his LinkedIn profile here

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Posted in 3D Printing

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