Fans are an essential asset to keeping your 3D printer running at peak performance. Not only do fans create a cool environment for hot components, but they also provide ventilation in enclosed spaces, which helps promote prime printing conditions and reduce overheating.
When it comes to 3D printers, there are five main areas in that a fan could be used:
- Control board: Printer fans are an essential tool to boost the longevity of machinery. Without them, main circuits such as the processor and motor drivers would be exposed to heat. This could lead to a faster life expectancy for the machine due to its inability to cope with relentless levels of heat generated by its components.
- Hot end: Typically found near the cold end or heatsink, these fans are instrumental in maintaining adequate temperatures so that anything besides the heater block and nozzle remains cooled off while printing.
- 3D prints: By blowing a stream of cool air just beneath the extrusion nozzle, they help prevent stringing and warping by rapidly cooling the freshly-extruded plastic, which minimizes its tendency to droop or curl up as it moves away from the nozzle.
- Power supply: They work to prevent high-power transformers, transistors, and resistors from overheating while they are running at full capacity or under load. The fans are key in maintaining the reliability of the power source as well as preventing any damage that can be caused by excessive heat.
- Motor: In some cases, there may be a need to attach fans or thermal heatsinks to the stepper motors. This helps to ensure that all parts are running at optimal temperatures and prevents any damage caused by overheating.
So, do you really need a fan on your printer?
The simple reply? With the exception of the motor, all other parts typically require fans to promote airflow. While power supplies have their own cooling systems, it’s important to ensure these are functioning correctly as well. In short, make sure you have the right fan in each component to keep them running at optimal temperatures.
The lengthy response? As we break down each region and explain where cooling may be required, please continue reading.
The control board of the printer is absolutely vital for its proper operation. It’s therefore essential that you keep it in good condition, as any interruption or breakdown could potentially result in undesirable outcomes like print quality issues or longer wait times.
Understanding Heat Sources in 3D Printing: Factors Affecting Print Quality
- Motor drivers are a vital component in printers, as they turn electrical signals into motion. Acting like a switch between the printer and its motors, the motor driver allows for power to flow to the coils in each stepper motor. With more powerful motors and more complicated designs, this transfer of electricity tends to generate heat, which is why many printers come with small heatsinks to prevent overheating.
- MOSFET transistors on the control board of printers are the custodians of power, carefully regulating and funnelling the required current to its intended destination. Although they are extremely reliable and efficient, it is unfortunately inevitable that some of the power is converted to heat as it passes through them. This in turn can cause components around these transistors to get quite hot.
- The processor of a 3D printer is a marvel of modern science, able to process hundreds of thousands of calculations per second. Its actions are like an invisible conductor in an orchestra, ensuring that all the different components move and function together as one unit. It takes care of positioning parts, heating materials, interacting with data sets and more–all at once! Not only does this sophisticated system allow for precise and intricate movements; but it also generates a lot of heat in the process.
To Fan or Not to Fan? Exploring the Role of Fans in 3D Printing
Now that there are so many heat sources, you might be asking why the control board hasn’t caught fire yet (unless you picked up an Anet A8, that is).
With all of the various components working together to heat up a 3D printer, such as the motors and processors, it’s actually fairly remarkable that the control board hasn’t burst into flames yet. Generally, motor drivers come with heatsinks attached to them in order to dissipate the heat away from the component and into the atmosphere.
The little amount of heat generated by the processor is usually not enough to cause a problem due to its small size; however, adding a heatsink on top can help make sure it doesn’t become overheated during normal use. Thus, despite all of these sources of heat within the 3D printer, it’s possible for it to remain functioning without damaging any internal parts.
So what would a fan do to help? While the majority of these parts are already equipped with heatsinks to assist with cooling, these components still require additional air circulation in order to prevent overheating. A fan is a great solution to this issue, as it helps keep temperatures under control by pushing or pulling more air over the heatsink.
The fan increases airflow, allowing heat to dissipate quickly and more efficiently throughout each print cycle. By utilizing a fan in your setup, you will be able to enjoy smoother prints and reduce some of the wear and tear on your machine.
If your control board is larger with better components, a fan may not be necessary in order to successfully maintain it, however, it’s still a great idea to have one as an additional safety measure.
Having a fan can not only prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the components, but it can also reduce any risk of overheating which is especially important for those with smaller heatsinks or cheaper components. Therefore we always recommend having a fan handy for your control board regardless of the size or efficiency.
The hot end of an FDM 3D printer is a critical component which serves two main purposes. Firstly, it must be capable of generating enough heat to efficiently melt the filament so that it can be deposited onto the print bed. Secondly, the top edge must remain cool enough to allow the drive gears to properly function and push the filament through without causing a ‘jam.’
Source of heat:
- The heater cartridge’s intense heat, which can reach and maintain temperatures of more than 350 °C, can seriously damage the heat block and nozzle if suitable cooling precautions aren’t taken. While the nozzle and heat block must remain hot, other components of the hot end system should experience a much cooler temperature. This is why proper cooling is necessary; keep all components at an optimal temperature so that nothing gets too cold or too hot.
Fan(s) needed? Yes.
So how exactly does this cooling work? To facilitate cooling, most 3D printer hot ends incorporate a heat break – an extremely thin metal tube between the heat block and the heatsink. This critically important component limits additional heat overflowing from the block, allowing for greater accuracy and functionality of the fused filament fabrication process.
Its design may vary from model to model, however, its main function is the same – channelling heat away from the extruder drive and nozzle quickly and effectively. Without this function, heat creep would occur; where the plastic material waiting in line to be used is melted prematurely by residual heat from the nozzle, creating clogs and inconsistent extrusion results.
For this reason, it is extremely important to have effective cooling measures in place. A fan is a great way to make sure the heatsink stays temperature controlled – and is much more cost-effective than other options like water cooling. While water cooling can be utilized to keep the hot end from overheating, a fan system would still be necessary to cool any externally mounted radiators.
Printer part cooling fans are usually an optional piece of hardware, but depending on the materials you’re using to print and the settings you employ, they can be necessary.
Source of heat:
- Molten plastic is precisely deposited in layers on a print bed, slowly building up a three-dimensional shape. Crucially, before each layer can be constructed, the underlying layer must rapidly cool so that it is stable enough to maintain its shape and remain fixed in that position whilst further layers are added.
Fan(s) needed? Usually.
Part-cooling fans help to cool down freshly-printed material and eliminate warping issues. Nonetheless, things aren’t always so simple; sometimes the use of a cooling fan actually creates more problems than it solves. For example, with some materials such as ABS filament, there is a good chance your prints will end up distorted if you rely solely on part-cooling fans for cooling. In this case, it’s better to keep the fan disabled or set at low power.
Fortunately, in many cases, it is possible to adjust settings and turn off the fan altogether. This enables the print to be completed without the aid of a cooling mechanism. Slowing the printing time allows intricate projects time for layers to cool down before another layer is added, eliminating the need for a fan in some scenarios.
But switching between materials can cause problems if the device isn’t cooled correctly – which is where a cooling fan comes in; having one on hand may make a difference in quality or even prevent a job from being ruined due to overheating.
Especially when using systems like the E3D Volcano Hot End, it is recommended to take full advantage of dual-fan configurations, as this will allow for much faster print speeds and smoother surfaces due to both speed and heat distribution.
Even if you’re only using one material, part-cooling fans can still play an important role in how well 3D prints turn out by generating more efficient cooling profiles across the print layer.
The power supply is a vital component, acting as the intermediary between the wall and all digital devices. Without it, there would be no ability to regulate voltage or convert AC mains power into something usable.
Sources of heat:
- Transistors, transformers, and resistors are components that play an important part in providing the proper voltage and current to the devices using the power supply. These components become very hot when a large amount of power passes through them.
Fan(s) needed? No.
Power supplies are a technology that many of us take for granted, but, in truth, they require very delicate handling. As power supplies come from the manufacturer with fans installed, it is best to leave them in place. After all, the manufacturer has tested these fans to keep the power supply at an appropriate temperature even when used as intended.
Of course, some power supplies might be used in such a way that they consistently overheat and an external fan may be necessary. In any case, it is important to remember not to open up the unit and make modifications without considering both safety and performance.
Therefore, it is neither advised nor necessary for the majority of users to add or remove fans from their power supplies.
Stepper motors are essential components inside a printer. These motors take instructions from the machine’s software and provide smooth rotational movement for the various tool heads and axes so that the printer can precisely move each layer on top of the previous one until the final product is fully printed.
Sources of heat:
- Coils within each motor are exposed to pulses of high-current electricity which instruct the motor to spin in exact increments. As a result of this electrical activity, heat is generated which then needs to be safely diverted away from the delicate interior parts of the motor and into its metal housing.
Fan(s) needed? No.
In most cases, additional cooling measures beyond the basic grades of stepper motors are not required, even for high-torque applications such as extruders. This is because most standard stepper motor designs are rated for up to 100°C and do not reach temperatures that necessitate active cooling. If a higher threshold of performance is desired, however, a heatsink may be able to provide the necessary dissipative capabilities in many cases, though some high-torque applications may require fans or other forms of active cooling.
I am Bheema Shankar. I have worked on SLS, CJP, DLP, SLA and FDM technologies at Think3D. Currently working as Process and application engineer at VEER-O-METALS PRIVATE LIMITED. I am always fascinated by the process of creating things layer by layer. This fascination led me to pursue a career in 3D printing technology. I am passionate about how 3D works and enjoy exploring new ways to improve the 3D printing process.