3D printers are inherently full of moving parts, and thus they tend to break. Then what?
While the processes used to 3D print objects may vary considerably, they all tend to use motion systems in one way or another, involve heat or controlled atmospheres, and sometimes include expensive subcomponents. All of these elements must work synchronously together to provide excellent 3D print experiences.
However, that’s not always the case, as these systems tend to break, often more frequently than you might expect a device to fail.
As you’ve invested your cash into a machine, and your time to learn how to use it, it is always advisable to get it up and running as fast as possible when a failure does inevitably occur. But what are your choices for repair?
If you’re on a service plan from either the manufacturer or reseller, then engage it: call them and they’ll service or replace your machine as per the maintenance contract.
But many people choose not to have a service plan, perhaps hoping to avoid costs, or it may be there are simply no service plans available. In those situations, you must perform the necessary repairs yourself.
Sometimes repairs are straightforward, and involve easily executed steps such as tightening belts or bolts, cleaning out debris, resolving a nozzle jam or other scenarios that don’t require any spare parts.
But sometimes you do need spare parts. Perhaps a giant glob of thermoplastic has encased your hot end and ripped out the thermistor cable, for example. In that case you may need a new thermistor. There are countless situations that could potentially demand the replacement of almost any key part on your device.
The question is, where do these parts come from? There are only a few options:
The best option is to get any required spare parts from the original manufacturer. They are the ones that created the machine and they are the ones that can, theoretically, provide the exact same parts that you machine was made from.
In many cases, this is where the story ends. But sometimes acquiring parts from the manufacturer is not an option. Consider a case where they’ve discontinued your particular model and no longer provide parts. In that case you’re out of luck and must engage other options.
A reseller typically takes on the sales of several different brands and models within a region. They typically attempt to provide better service than one would obtain from the manufacturer as a means of demonstrating the value of purchasing equipment from them. Usually that means they have some capability for doing repair work, and thus have supplies of spare parts for the specific machines they service.
While I’m sure they’d prefer to sell you a full repair service, very often they’ll sell you parts they may have on hand. The original product manufacturer may have run out of spare parts because they were bought by resellers, so ask if they have any specific parts you require.
Where are these resellers? There are dozens of them, and typically they are located within a particular region. The best bet is to ask a nearby reseller that is known to have sold your particular model in the past as they may still have spares for it in stock. If they don’t, then iteratively ask resellers in more distant locations if they’d send you the part. Here is a short selection of some resellers offering spare parts, and there are many more like this:
iMakr (Europe, USA)
iDig 3D Printing (UK)
Fargo 3D Printing (has spare parts “finder)
OEM 3D Printer Parts
Should the manufacturer and reseller fail, there are certain components that can be obtained from OEM sources. Recently there’s been an increasing trend for 3D printer manufacturers to include standard high-quality components obtained from third parties, rather than designing their own. A good example of this is hot ends and extruder components from UK’s E3D-Online, whose parts appear in many machines these days. Similarly, your extruder gears may be from BondTech.
This option is feasible only for particular components, and you may have trouble determining whether a component is from a third party, and even identifying which particular part version is required. You may have to discuss this with the OEM.
Generic Non-3D Print
Many parts in 3D printers are actually not 3D printer-specific; they are simply generic electronic or mechanical parts that can be found from many conventional sources. There are plenty of places to purchase small electronic components, specialty bolts and nuts, rods, plates and much more. 3D printers are often simply a sophisticated collection of generic parts.
One source of this type might be RobotShop, which market parts for robotics projects, but many such parts are also used in 3D printer designs.
Sometimes spare parts are sold on eBay, and a search may yield exactly what you need. It’s not clear to me how these spare parts end up on eBay: were they purchased from a manufacturer who was clearing them out and someone is re-marketing them on eBay? Who knows, but eBay has a section dedicated to 3D printer parts.
If all of the above has failed, then times are getting a bit desperate and you must resort to more interesting approaches. This one involves finding a used model similar to yours for sale. Often you will see broken or non-usable equipment for sale at rock-bottom prices. If you were to purchase one or more of these you can cannibalize them to hopefully find the require parts.
Sometimes the designs for parts are made publicly available, perhaps on Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory or other public 3D model shops.
You could choose to download the required part and print it, if you still have access to a surviving 3D printer. However, this approach works only for 3D print
able parts, and you won’t get far if you need a thermistor.
Design Your Own
The choice of last resort is to simply design and make your own part. Those mechanically handy who have design skills and expertise as well as access to appropriate making equipment could, in theory, make some of the spare parts required. Yes, I said last resort.
There is really no good reason a 3D printer could not be made to work for almost forever, if supplied with appropriate spare parts and operated properly. However, the ultimate end of a machine would be when it is made obsolete functionally by superior equipment at lower cost.
That’s when you give up and simply get a new machine.