Desktop 3D printers are primarily for consumers or hobbyists, not industrial operations. However, such desktop 3D printers, whether FDM or SLA, are used extensively by many businesses and print farms. So, how long can 3D printers run continuously, and can 3D printers be left printing 24/7?
3D printers can be left printing 24/7 if you don’t have print failures and load new filament or refill the resin tank whenever necessary. However, 3D printers require maintenance in due course, so any model will develop issues if you run it continuously or indefinitely.
How long a 3D printer can run continuously also depends on its quality, the complexity of your designs, the possibilities of printing glitches, and other pertinent factors. In this article, I explain how long 3D printers can run continuously and the typical problems you will likely encounter.
How Long Can a 3D Printer Run Continuously?
Many designs require a print time exceeding 24 hours. You must continually run a 3D printer for the entire print time for such models. Complex designs and larger models can take several days to print.
So, most 3D printers of leading brands can run continually or 24/7 for many days.
It is impractical to generalize or guesstimate the most prolonged continuous operation possible with any 3D printer due to the following factors, among others:
- 3D printers don’t have identical hardware quality.
- 3D printing doesn’t always pan out as you expect.
- Power outages without backup will disrupt a print.
- Printing issues can ruin a model or stop a session.
Let me elaborate on these factors using some of the most popular 3D printers as examples.
How Long Can a Creality Ender 3 3D Printer Run Continuously?
The Creality Ender-3 3D printer uses an industrial-grade circuit board, allowing it to run much longer than many other printers within its price range.
A Creality Ender 3 3D printer can run continuously for 200 hours without problems. Not all 3D printers can endure up to 200 hours of non-stop printing. Of course, even the Creality Ender-3 3D printer may have other issues when printing for long periods.
3D printers can overheat due to a continuous 24/7 operation spanning several days. A cheaper 3D printer’s components may not be sturdy enough to deal with consistent overheating, and you may have electrical issues with the wiring or mechanical problems in the motors, etc.
3D printers like the Creality Ender-3 are unlikely to have fragile components, so you can leave them printing 24/7.
How Long Can Formlabs 3D Printers (SLA) Run Continuously?
Formlabs 3D printers don’t use as many moving parts as FDM models using filaments. So, you may be able to run a Formlabs SLA printer continuously for a longer period than FDM or FFF.
Of course, there are other challenges that you must account for while running an SLA printer 24/7.
Formlabs and other SLA 3D printers limit the volume of resin you can load at a time and use to print continuously due to the size of the tank or vat.
With FDM 3D printers, you can use a larger spool of filament instead of a smaller one to print continuously for several days.
If you have 1 liter of resin (0.26 gal.) in a Formlabs 3D printer tank, you can print around 90 simple rooks, each being 11 mm (0.43 inches) tall.
Of course, you can pause an SLA 3D printer to replenish the tank when you have to and resume printing without much delay.
However, refilling only works when you have no cured resin and debris inside the vat. If you have some hardened resin floating or stuck to the film, you must clean the tank before refilling it. This rule applies to all printing sessions for resin and not just a continuous operation.
Another potential issue you have to bear in mind while running an SLA 3D printer is overheating the resin. The Formlabs Form 2 3D printer and many models heat the liquid resin in the tank, typically up to 35 °C (95 °F).
A continuous 24/7 operation spanning days may overheat some portions of the liquid resin, as the 3D printer will try to maintain the target temperature throughout the run-time. Even when Formlabs Form 2 completes a print, it retains the target temperature for 30 minutes.
Sustaining the target temperature is handy because you can start another print within those 30 minutes. However, a non-stop operation is an entirely different ballgame.
If you see smoke inside an SLA printer enclosure or around the build plate and tank, stop printing to assess the situation.
How Long Can Prusa FDM/FFF 3D Printers Run Continuously?
You can run your Prusa for up to 800 print hours if you don’t have any printing issues and there’s enough filament to print continuously. Most Prusa 3D printers will require some servicing after 800 hours of printing.
The servicing after or before 800 hours will likely require a nozzle change. There could be other minor or major problems, too.
Note that such a continuous operation is unlikely to be successful if you don’t have the ideal settings, including but not limited to the following:
- Temperature in the room: 68 °F to 86 °F or 20 °C to 30 °C
- Relative indoor humidity: 25%
How Long Can Prusa SLA/MSLA 3D Printers Run Continuously?
Prusa has two types of 3D printers for resin:
- SL1, which uses standard stereolithography (SLA)
- SL1S, using MSLA (masked stereolithography apparatus)
Neither original model can heat the resin, so overheating isn’t a concern. However, if you use a Prusa CW1S post-processing station to pre-heat resin, ensure you don’t go overboard as you try to keep up by repeatedly refilling the tank for continuous printing spanning days.
Prusa SLA or MSLA 3D printers are vulnerable to the same problems as Formlabs, such as:
- Adhesion problems for both filament and resin.
- Filament extrusion issues such as a clogged hotend, jammed nozzle, etc.
- Resin print failures, including a part or whole model falling into the tank.
- Resolution issues in finish quality, warping, etc.
These problems can occur even when you don’t print continuously, but the likelihood is greater if you run a 3D printer 24/7. For instance, you may be unable to prepare the 3D print bed or build plate as effectively as you should when you continuously churn out one model after another.
The other issues are related to hardware and software. 3D printers are computers with many microcontrollers. The firmware is the operating system or software, and the mainboard is the hardware foundation.
Like computers, 3D printers can have memory issues with RAM and ROM.
You may encounter one or more of these memory-related problems while running a 3D printer continuously:
- Prusa SL1 and SL1S 3D printers’ internal memory may be full when you operate them 24/7.
- Filament printers may have static memory overwritten errors if they have to process too many commands.
- Formlabs 3D printers may print slower than usual if you run them continuously or 24/7, spanning many days.
Even high-end servers need timely reboots for maintenance. Desktop 3D printers aren’t supercomputers.
A new and sturdy 3D printer should reliably run 24/7 and continuously for days. However, you need to ensure timely maintenance. Otherwise, you will find the cheaper parts, such as the stock fans and bearings, failing or malfunctioning sooner or later.