Got a 3D Printer. Now what?

An individual that know from the community reached out to me and said that he wanted to donate a 3D printer that he had to my NSBE chapter. This was unexpected and I had zero idea of what we could do with it. Since this was my first experience with a 3D printer, everything was a puzzle. This is a story of trying to get a 3D printer to work with no previous experience. After trial and error and resarch, I found that 3D printing breaks down into the following areas.


The donor had issues with getting it working, which I was able to fix. After going through the provided assembly instructions, I realized that some of the assembly was done incorrect, which contributed to the printer not working. The assembly instructions didn't cover all the steps to fully assemble the printer, thus had to turn to the internet for answers. After typing in the brand and model name, which I found out was another brand name that was rebadged, I then started finding answers to why the extruder wasn't working correctly. The instructions was missing the assembly step for the extruder, thus it wasn't properly connected. Looking at a clip from a YouTube video, I was able to get the extruder properly connected and working.


Like building a house, things have to be level. When everything is level, then the rest of the assembly is easier. When things are unlevel, the you get inconsistent or horrible results. Come to find out, the same is true with a 3D printer. First several test prints with printer did not work. One of those test prints, was actually too close to the base plate and ended up scouring the pad that's on the plate. Oops. More research. Eventually I ran across several videos and articles that describe using a sheet of paper to get uniform distance between the board and the print head. To be honest, I wanted to take a spirit level out and throw it on the board to make the whole thing level, but apparently that's not the right way as there are too many moving parts. I did see where one had made a small circuit that goes between the print head and plate. Then the plate is adjusted in the 4 corners until it just touches the print head and makes the light on the circuit turn on.


The printer came with a roll of filament. On said role, it mentioned that the printing temperature was 230-250. The little bit of research that I had done prior to this, I realized that this was in Celsius and not Fahrenheit. Conveniently, the temperatures on the 3d Printer were also in Celsius, thus no conversion was needed. I set the printer to 240 and thought that all would be well. It was not. Come to find out, you have to also set the bed temperature and that was a whole different story. Depending on the article, the bed temperature varied. Again, as a novice to this, I did not know that there were different filament types. Once I found out that there were different filament types, then I had to find out which type that was donated to us. Come to find out, it was PETG, according to the box, not spool.


From what I have found, temperature is critical in 3D printing. It also depends on the type of filament that you are using to print with. There are two different temperatures that you have to keep in mind. The extruder temperature and the bed temperature. The extruder temperature is the temperature that the print head needs to be to turn the filament from a solid to a liquid and create the object that you are attempting to make. The plate temperature is what your printing will sit on as it is being printed. This is critical because too low of a plate temp the print wont stick to the plate or will move around during printing and too high of a temperature means that what you printed may not properly cure.

Make and Model

The printer that we received was a Sainsmart Ender 3. After typing that in, not finding many results, and finding the original product, I realize that it is actually a Creality Ender 3 that was bought from Sainsmart. This is similar to how a Chevrolet 1500 series truck is the same as the GMC 1500 series truck from a mechanical perspective, but has minor differences in the appearance and badging. The underlying structure and components are exactly the same and can be swapped because of this. After figuring this out, then I began doing research on the Creality Ender 3 and that yield more results that actaully helped with how to set up the printer and understand its features.


What will my NSBE chapter be doing with the printer? Not sure just yet. I have posted a tweet and reached out to other individuals that I know who work in STEM or do STEM education to see what they did with theirs and was given many of suggestions. Given that my NSBE chapter does have some events in the community, it is possible to take it to outreach events and demonstrate what it can do.

One thing that was suggested was that whoever would have it, me in this case, should become familiar with how to do modeling. I have seen where some also have started 3D printing businesses by running 3D print farms and selling repair parts, new products, and more. I have considered this option, but that will be an idea further down the road for me.

Posted: 2022-02-24
Author: Kenny Robinson, @almostengr