Aug 22, 2018

Auto-Leveling 3D Printer – Do I Really Need It?

A leveled “bed” is a prerequisite for an accurate print, but it doesn’t make an auto-leveling 3D printer a need. Tinkerers who want to level their printing platform can either do it manually or opt for auto-calibration.

How Does Auto-Leveling Work?

Senser Mount Source: oiepoie.nl

Every 3D printing user wants the distance between the print nozzle and bed to be uniform throughout the build area. But that’s usually tough to attain given the expansion and contraction that takes place during the 3D printing process. The result is an unleveled bed, which is responsible for a plethora of common 3D printing problems, including clogging, scratch marks on your print, or general poor adhesion because the first layer is uneven.

While most beds may appear flat and even, irregularities are prone to occur due to the usage of tapes or other types of matter placed upon the printing bed. Mechanical flaws in the design of the printer may also cause defects on the bed or the nozzle. Bed leveling is meant to compensate for any anomaly on the bed, and it is usually done with respect to the printer’s axis; not the laws of gravity.

Fortunately, there are 3D printers that come with an automatic bed leveling feature, used to confirm that the printing platform is level whenever you’re preparing to print. Typically, a 3D printer with auto-leveling has a switch or proximity sensor near the tip of the print head that “probes” specific points on the platform when the bed leveling process is first initiated.

The sensor measures the distance between the printing bed and the nozzle at different locations then printer then uses this information – via its firmware – to adjust the nozzle as it moves across the print platform. The adjustment is determined after the printer has calculated the orientation of your print platform with respect to your nozzle’s movement on the XY axis.

Therefore, even if your bed is somewhat unleveled, your auto-leveling 3D printer will make minor adjustments to make sure your print bed and your nozzle are at an optimum distance throughout your printing. This improves bed adhesion and print quality because your extruder movements are adjusted to follow the contours or tilt of the bed; if there are any.

BLTouch Auto Bed Leveling Sensor

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Manual Leveling

Manual Bed Leveling Source: ricardodeazambuja.com

Manual bed levelling is also an option, even though it is considered tedious and time-consuming. To add insult to injury, the manual process needs to be repeated after several prints because there is always a possibility of the bed misaligning after several hours of use.

There are also instances where you cannot just get your bed leveled no matter what, and this is usually as a result of warping. Aluminum and PCB beds get warped, and while you can place a glass bed on top of your PCB, warped aluminum may need replacement.

Pros and Cons of Auto-Leveling 3D Printers

The Original Prusa i3 Source: fabbaloo.com

Arguments for an Auto-Leveling 3D Printer

  • It makes it easier to change the build surface without having to reconfigure your printer.
  • You get high precision regardless of uneven heating or bowed build plate. Sensors ensure the print head is always moving parallel to the build plate.
  • No wasting time fiddling with the bed and Z height
  • Ease of use for inexperienced machinists
  • Gets you printing right away

Arguments Against an Auto-Leveling 3D Printer

  • The sensors add weight to the print head.
  • Assembling an auto-calibrating 3D printer kit can be a difficult task. The Original Prusa i3 MK2, for example, has the full mesh bed auto-leveling that depends on an induction sensor to measure its distance around nine circular induction targets on the print bed. The sensor is mounted onto the print head, and while it guarantees a hassle-free print, assembling the MK2 requires higher accuracy – owing to the automatic bed calibration feature – compared to the former i3 model. When the Original Prusa i3 MK2 is not assembled as needed, it will print an uneven first layer, or the extruder may crash into the build platform. You must ensure the sensor hits the nine induction sensor points, or you will have nothing but printing trouble.
  • The printer firmware may mask mechanical errors like backlash or even a flawed design that makes it impossible to have a level bed.

Verdict

Levelling Using a Multimeter Source: reddit.com

You do not need an auto-level 3D printer if you are an experienced machinist who works with 3D printers on a regular basis. In fact, it can be argued that manually leveling your print platform gives you a better understanding of how your printer works, and it is what can elevate you from an amateur to a pro.

An auto-level 3D printer is not a need, but it saves time, and using it is dependent on the tinkerer’s demands. A 3D printing enthusiast may make that decision by first answering these three questions:

Do you want a hands-on experience with your 3D printer?

What’s your skill level with 3D printers?

How much time do you have?

BLTouch Auto Bed Leveling Sensor

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License: The text of "Auto-Leveling 3D Printer – Do I Really Need It?" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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