3D printing a 3D printer is a dream of many hobbyists, and a few pioneers in the industry have spent years on this ardent pursuit. While NASA explores 3D printing regolith on the moon, the mortals on earth can wonder if it’s possible to 3D print a 3D printer here.
It’s impossible to 3D print an entire 3D printer with the typical desktop models, at least for now. You can 3D print over 50% of a 3D printer, but the restrictions imposed by materials, printing technologies, and available devices don’t have any solutions yet.
3D printers using thermoplastics can’t print metal. Also, you need to print the parts separately and assemble them because the 3D printers for consumers don’t have sufficient space to build large models. This article discusses the 3D printer parts that aren’t and are possible to 3D print, so keep reading.
Which 3D Printer Parts Can You 3D Print?
You can 3D print several 3D printer parts, such as the frame, drive systems, and bearing blocks. However, you must customize all the designs and dimensions to suit your material type. You may use PLA filament for most parts, but the belt drive needs TPU.
A 3D printer has numerous screws, bolts, nuts, brackets, and gears. You can 3D print only some of these gears, brackets, and nuts using PLA or other thermoplastics. The other essentials that must be of metal or alloy, such as aluminum or steel, respectively, are beyond FDM 3D printing.
Fused filament fabrication (FFF) or its trademarked fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology is primarily for thermoplastics. Thus, you can’t create anything with metal, alloy, or glass, and your material options are limited to PLA, ABS, TPU, and a few composites.
The scope of 3D printing significantly broadens if you move to industrial printers that use selective laser sintering (SLM) or direct metal laser sintering (DSLM). Alternatively, you have to invest in one of the latest FDM 3D printers that can work with metal composites.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to 3D metal printing. I’ll discuss why it’s quintessential in the 3D printing of 3D printer parts. Also, here’s a YouTube video about how 3D metal printing works:
3D Printer Parts You Cannot 3D Print
You’ll find a few valuable resources on Thingiverse if you want to 3D print different 3D printer parts. However, those resources also highlight the inevitable need to purchase several components. For the purpose of this article, let’s consider HyperCube and Mulbot 3D printers.
HyperCube 3D Printed 3D Printer
If you check the HyperCube details on Thingiverse, it requires several purchased parts as those can’t be 3D printed. So, you’ll need to buy button head screws, hammer nuts, aluminum brackets and shaft coupler, steel rods, bushings, belts, pulley, and drive gears, among others.
You can’t 3D print the stepper motor, hotend, bed, switches, card reader, display, heat sink, cooling fan, cables and wires, proximity sensor, and none of the electrical or electronic components required for the printer. Here’s a YouTube video for HyperCube’s readymade parts:
Presently, there are no 3D printable alternatives to many parts. However, that doesn’t imply you have to buy a majority of the parts, except for the electromechanical and electronic components. Any part that can be made of plastic is 3D printable, and you may switch from metal for some.
Here’s a HyperCube YouTube video showing all the 3D printed parts for the DIY printer:
You may manage to 3D print more than the 41 pieces shown in the video, depending on the specifications you choose. However, you can’t swap out all the metal, alloy, or glass components and settle for plastic, irrespective of the type of filament you may or want to use.
Mulbot 3D Printed 3D Printer
The Mulbot 3D printer is probably the best example of how far you can go to 3D print the essential parts. As the developers describe their model, the Mulbot is a mostly 3D printed 3D printer, not entirely.
Here’s a YouTube video of the 3D printed Mulbot printer parts:
While it’s an undoubtedly fascinating achievement, the Mulbot 3D printer still uses a purchased extruder, hotend, controller, tubing, strip lights, power supply, inlet plug & switch, and blower fan. The Mulbot is in a league of its own, but it’s still not fully 3D printed and may not be for a while.
3D Print, Repurpose and Assemble 3D Printer Parts
A practical solution is to 3D print all the parts that can be of plastic, repurpose old electrical & electronic components of a model you may have already. It’s also possible if you can fetch them from someone and ensure a compatible design to assemble them into a new DIY 3D printer.
You may still need to buy a few parts, but that shouldn’t cost a fortune. The typical challenge in such an approach is compatibility. You’ll need to put in some tedious effort to change the dimensions, layers, and infills of all 3D printable parts to suit the others you have or will buy.
If you want to build a DIY homemade 3D printer, you can do so by buying the parts separately, and the whole project may cost you about $150. You can reduce this cost significantly by 3D printing the printable parts.
Here’s a YouTube video guide to assemble a 3D printer at home:
Is It Illegal To Print a 3D Printer?
It’s not illegal to print a 3D printer if it’s not patented. Also, it’s impossible to print the whole 3D printer at the moment due to material restrictions and limited technologies. Even if it’s possible someday, you still need to check your local laws first if you can do so.
While 3Dprinting has become more accessible today, some laws are trying to control the production of certain items. For example, 20 attorneys are trying to prevent people from printing 3D-printed guns.
Consumer-grade 3D printer nozzles can’t create extremely tiny threads on screws. Also, infills aren’t always reliably uniform. Furthermore, layering and warping problems are common. You’ll have to deal with shrinkage issues that can ruin all your painstaking calculations, designing, and printing.
However, 3D printing technologies are evolving at an unprecedented pace, and many brands are proactively trying to reduce the costs of high-end printers, including those for metal. Thus, you may be able to print all the essential metal and alloy parts in the future, sooner than later.