Here is my overview of 3D printer enclosure. I hope it will clarify some questions about enclosing a printer and give you some ideas and tips how to build yours. Part 1 looks briefly into the topic and Part 2 is about my specific enclosure build for RepRap Prusa i3 printer.
Why enclose a 3D printer?
- Stable environment temperature The enclosure (aka heated chamber) will keep the inside temperature high and very stable. Without protection, sudden droughts can negatively affect the already printed part of the print by warping. It is especially true for the ABS, which need to cool down slowly, steady and uniformly throughout the model. For that reason ABS also likes high temperatures in the chamber, which will ensure the slow cooling of printed layers.
- Noise reduction The noise level while printing can be drastically reduced, even to a point when you have no idea if the printer is running or not.
- Smell containment The wafting smell of sweet oily glue (PLA) or burning plastic (ABS) remains in the container (or at least some portion of it). It can be diverted by fan through a pipe during the printing or aired out after.
- No dust collecting As dust settles on the printer, it will get into the bearings and other moving parts and it will affect the smooth operations. The enclosure stops the dust and creates clean printing environment.
- Safety (yours and the printers) The printer will not accidentally hurt you or other spectators and they also won’t hurt the printer.
- It’s cool!
Considerations when building an enclosure
- Printer accessibility How and how much you can access the printer is a major decision. You won’t be able to do anything through small front door but also you won’t want to lift whole heavy frame each time you need to tweak something a little. Consider the directions from you might need access the printer. It is not just about pulling out the printed model or loading a filament. From time to time you will much likely need to calibrate the heatbed, tighten a screw or lubricate the bearings. Consider also the full range of a printhead – you should be able to replace a filament even if the printhead is near the top.
- Printer visibility It is mandatory to have at least a small window through that you can see the current print. Larger see through areas are likely to be useful when diagnosing a print or printer (and more spectacular when observing), but also likely to leak more heat and sound.
- Electronics placement It is very good to place the electronics outside the box itself. Not that it wouldn’t stand the heat (I don’t expect the DIY enclosure to be designed for temperatures more than 60°C/140°F), but they are expected to last longer when operating in lower temperatures and you may use additional fan if needed. But you may be limited by cable lengths (you may extend them though) or some circuits may be somehow inseparable on your printer, so check ahead.
- Vibration Almost all vibrations from the printer are transmitted through solid materials in direct contact. It is important to consider some sort of dampening between the printer and the enclosure’s bottom, and between the bottom and a table or whatever will be underneath. There are many options like furniture pads, rubber pad sheet (like the one used under a washing machine), carpets, even springs etc. It is good to try some and go with the best. Also doors, lids and other parts are subjects to vibrate, so using e.g. window sealing gasket may be good idea.
- Build strength Do you want to attach several tools and accessories to it? Do you want to be able to transport it safely? Or will be full acrylic case just enough?
- Enclosure size The inside dimensions shall be rather larger than smaller. Don’t forget to account for movement of all the cables. They should always have a free space to move without hitting and bending against the sides. Design suitable dimensions and add some extra space. It will become very convenient, trust me.
- Aesthetics Yes, just covering the printer with a cardboard and some plastic bag is much more simpler and quicker, but hey, give your beloved printer what it deserves! Also you (and your family/friends) will have to look at it very often.
- Budget, Crafting tools & skills Just reminder of things that already crossed your mind. The materials used will depend on your budget, your crafting skills with them and complexity of the build. Plywood or MDF will be definitively cheaper than aluminium profiles and acrylic. Or maybe you just want to buy a ready made product.
Additional features for the enclosure
- Lighting The enclosure screams for LED strips to be placed underneath the top cover for maxing out the cool factor and for better visibility during prints.
- Frame support The printer’s frame can be attached to the enclosure’s frame for additional support. Very useful for the cheap acrylic printers, but also useful for the aluminium ones.
- Portability Comes handy when moving or transporting the printer.
- Rigid filament spool holder The filament spool will be much stable when attached to the enclosure than the printer’s frame. You may also use it to hold more spools at once and even create an additional filament-enclosure to protect it from dust and humidity.
- Tool holders You may attach a custom holders or compartments for your 3D printing tools and accessories, rather than lay them around.