Best Practices for 3D Printing From Home

Like many of us across the globe, chances are that you’ve had to quickly adapt from having a full workbench or stocked office to engineering and working from your home with more limited resources. In these times, the ability to adapt to these new surroundings and challenges will help limit product disruption and maintain development cycles down the line. 

Formlabs desktop stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers’ compact size make them suitable for use at home or outside of the office. Additionally, with over 30 different materials simulating everything from silicone, polypropylene, ABS, and more, you’ll have more flexibility and use cases to adapt to new challenges as they arise. 

Bringing your 3D printing in-house will help you cut costs and gain more control during times of uncertainty, especially if you’ve previously or currently rely on outsourcing 3D printed parts. Our customers have turned to 3D printing at home to cut costs and improve efficiency, continue critical product development, and support COVID-19 relief efforts.

Dan Kirchgessner, Community Manager, and Jake Kapusta, Senior Services Agent, share their best practices as they print from home.

Setting Up Your 3D Printing Workspace

Before you transport or receive your 3D printer, you’ll want to make sure your space and environment are suitable for printing, post-processing, and any finishing needs you may have. You’ll want to declare level working spaces where you can place your printer(s), post-processing solutions like Form Wash and Form Cure, a workspace for part removal and finishing, and short-term storage for items like additional wash solvent, resin tanks, resin cartridges, gloves, post-processing tools, etc.

Alexis Hope, a designer and researcher based at the MIT Media Lab and MIT Center for Civic Media, says that when it came to setting up her home workshop, “getting the printer at home was a big impetus for me to set up a workstation. You need room for the wash and cure systems and a space to store your parts, so make sure you plan to have the necessary setup to be productive.”

Alexis Hope’s home workshop.

Some of our most commonly asked questions about 3D printing from home relate to environmental considerations, like sounds and smells. To prevent any sensitivity to smells, we’ve found it helpful to keep the post-processing station in a well ventilated area or near an open window for easy access to airflow. While the Form 3 is relatively quiet, comparable to the sound of a microwave, you may want to consider placing it away from quiet areas of your house to prevent any type of disruption. 

Woody Hedberg, print process engineer at Formlabs, recently set up a Form 3L in his apartment for materials testing. “I installed chipboard, thick cardboard, on the floor and walls of the space as a protective measure,” Hedberg says. He also found it useful to set up his space near an open window behind a closed door to mitigate any potential smells and sounds. 

Once you have your space set up, gather your 3D printing essentials, such as rinse buckets, baskets, and bottles, tweezers, a scraper, removal tool, flush cutters, disposable nitrile gloves, and whatever additional tools you’ve found useful to your 3D printing workflow.

Transporting Your Printers Safely

If you already own a 3D printer, you’ll first want to carefully consider how you’ll transport it directly from your office or workspace to your home. When preparing your Formlabs 3D printer for transportation, first, remove the resin cartridge, remove and clean the build platform, and then remove and cover the resin tank before placing it inside its tank case. Make sure that all accessories that contain resin are closed securely before transport.

For the Form 3, the Light Processing Unit (LPU) must be secured with the thumb screws and latch before transportation. Not securing the LPU may cause damage to your printer. Contact us if you can't find the screws.

Wrap your printer carefully and place it in its original packaging if possible. Don’t forget to pack all the accessories you might need for 3D printing and post-processing: Form Wash and Form Cure or finishing kit and alternative curing solution, and consumables such as resin tanks, resin cartridges, gloves, post-processing tools, IPA, etc.

Once you’re able to unpack all of your 3D printing supplies at home, don’t forget to re-level your printer in your new environment before printing.

Resuming Your 3D Printing Workflow & Working Remotely With Your Team

Now that you’ve got your home printer setup ready to go, there are a few ways you can improve and optimize your workflow. 

Align the start and end times of your prints to match your working hours to get the most working hours out of your printer. Using PreForm’s estimated print duration, you can plan for the start of your next print. Set long prints to run while you’re away from the workspace, so that you can finish the current print and begin the next one when you return.

Kevin Gautier, business development at Formlabs, finds his team shipping prints to each other more while working remotely. “Always remember to print a copy of the object for yourself, so you can go back and reference them.”

Kevin Gautier’s home setup.

In the same vein, Hedberg suggests to document in detail and photograph every print, especially if you don’t have excess storage. “Now that the team is all remote, we need to have a proper system of documentation. That doesn't mean I need to keep every single 3D printed part, but I do need to carefully document my prints and keep records for the team,” he says.

To monitor your print production in real time and track resin and tank usage, use Dashboard to monitor your print progress by printer. You’ll also be able to track the success and failure rate of your prints, so that you know which designs were most successful for future iterations.

“Get ahead with all the design work you can do and prioritize the critical physical prototyping tasks across teams,” suggests Zach Frew, engineering technician at Formlabs. Frew says it’s necessary to prioritize these tasks, especially when working with limited resources, and communicate them across your team members.

Safety Considerations

Practice safety when using Formlabs products. Wear nitrile gloves to handle IPA, and work in a well-ventilated area. Store IPA away from heat, sparks, and open flame. IPA evaporates rapidly, so keep containers closed whenever possible. Consult the chemical manufacturer or supplier for detailed safety information.

According to Formlabs materials guru Zac Zguris, “You need to practice good chemical hygiene. Keep everything clean. Ensure you wipe up any drips or spills immediately, use acetone or isopropyl alcohol to ensure no sticky residue remains.  When it comes to wash IPA, this would include making sure you have fresh airflow in your workspace. A closet is not at all an appropriate location for active use of a 3D printer or an IPA wash.”

When handling resin cartridges and containers, always be sure you’re wearing gloves to protect your skin. Store cartridges upright, away from direct sunlight, in a well-ventilated area. Close the cartridge vent cap to prevent leaks.

Do not pour liquid or partially cured resin into drains or dispose of it with household waste. Do not pour isopropyl alcohol (IPA) that contains dissolved resin into drains or dispose of it with household waste. As always, all solvents and resins should be disposed of in accordance with your local regulations and supplier’s SDS. To learn more about safety precautions, continue reading on our support site. 

How Are You Engineering From Home?

Do you have any best practices or tips that you’ve learned along the way when making this transition to engineer from home? We’d love to hear about them. Feel free to share directly on social media by tagging @formlabs or #EngineeringFromHome or add a comment on our forums

Continue reading to learn more of our best practices and see how other individuals are engineering from home.