Are Quiet 3D Printers A Good Thing?

By on January 21st, 2020 in Ideas

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 Listening for 3D printers [Source:  Pixabay / skeeze ]
Listening for 3D printers [Source: Pixabay / skeeze ]

Some recently appearing desktop 3D printers are eerily quiet. Is this a good thing? 

Desktop 3D printers employ a set of stepper motors to drive the device’s motion system, and for years these have been rather noisy. As the motors pushed axes to and fro, you’d hear a buzzy noise proportional to the speed of the motion. 

Loud 3D Printers

In early machines this noise was quite noticeable, even loud. 

Then in the past couple of years a few desktop 3D printers started using new, highly sophisticated drivers for their stepper motors. Trinamic has been one of the leaders in this category, providing drivers that not only provide for essentially silent operation, but also are more efficient, and even able to report on motor status. 

It may be possible for future 3D printers to monitor the temperature of their stepper motors and take corrective action if thresholds are succeeded. 

I’ve you’ve not yet operated a silent 3D printer, they are something to behold. The observational experience is so utterly different from a “normal” 3D printer. The machine smoothly sweeps around, building an object in complete silence. 

Silent 3D Printers

This is a good thing, right? 

It could be, particularly in offices or schools where there are groups of people attempting to do work nearby. Older stepper systems were so noisy that some inventive folks would literally create GCODE that would make the 3D printer “sing a song”. 

But having used a silent 3D printer for a few months now I have come to realize I’m missing something. 

It seems that years of operating noisy 3D printers I have inadvertently trained myself to react to 3D printer sounds. When the device is operating normally it makes regular sequences of sounds corresponding to the movements of the machine. 

Audible Indications From 3D Printers

Like everyone, I have come to expect to jump when there are unexpected dramatic sounds like loud clunks, cracks or scraping noises. If you hear anything like that, there’s clearly something wrong with the printer and it should be attended to immediately. 

But even if the machine is operating normally and there isn’t something dramatic happening, a subtle change in the sound sequence can indicate something going wrong. I seem to have come to depend on that capability, and it’s simply gone with the new silent 3D printers. 

Another effect I’ve experienced is a kind of loss of awareness of device operation. For example, sometimes I will temporarily adjust the print speed on the first layer to be extra slow to ensure strong adhesion. After the first layer is complete I’ll trot over to the 3D printer and crank the speed back up. 

However, with a silent machine you “forget” that it is running. Many times I’ve simply forgotten that the machine is running and not changed the speed back to normal, only because the device becomes “invisible” without an active sound. 

There are moments I want the sound back! 

I realize that the sound of 3D printers is now slowly disappearing, and the future will be very quiet in 3D printing workshops around the world. But part of me still wants those familiar sounds. 

I’ll just have to learn new ways of monitoring my 3D printers, and perhaps this is less of an issue with the increasing reliability of today’s and especially tomorrow’s 3D printers. 

What are your thoughts on silent 3D printing?

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!