March 17, 2018

Thermoform Your 3D Printed Parts! Read Now!

Introduction to Thermoform

Hey guys and gals, today I am going to go over how to thermoform your 3D printed parts.  This is useful for the 3D printed hands and arms that I do for E-Nable.  I will go over some of the benefits to this process, and some ways that you can use it in your designs and prints.

Thermoforming is the process of heating your prints after they are finished printing and then reshaping them.  This allows you to create more complex shapes and designs than would typically be possible.Pieces before the thermoform process

Also, let me just say… I have only used this process with PLA.  I’ve seen it used for more heat resistant materials like ABS and polycarbonate.

All of these parts you are about to see where printed on my venerable Tevo Black Widow.  It’s equipped with TMC2100 stepper drivers on the X/Y axis, a parts cooling fan, Volcano hotend with Micro Swiss goodies, and a glass bed.

 

Methods to Thermoform

There are a few different methods to thermoform your prints.  The two main methods are a hot water bath or a heat gun.  I prefer the hot water bath.

  I feel it is a superior way to get the whole part to a stable temperature without the risk of melting it.  This method also typically requires nothing extra to be purchased.  There are still many houses without a heat gun, come on people.. it’s 2018.  Kidding!

 

Safety First

A house burning, presumably from negligence

Don’t let this be your house!!!.

With that said, these instructions are to be taken at your own risk.  Please be safe, as there is a high chance of getting burned.  If you intend to try this out, please read these instructions a few times.  Be familiar with the process, so you are able to give it your full attention.  After all that… let’s start to thermoform!

 

The Heat Gun Method

The heat gun thermoform method requires finding a safe space to heat your 3D printed part without the fear of burning your dwelling to the ground.  Find a scrap plate, dish or pan that is NOT FLAMMABLE.  That part in ‘caps’ is pretty important.  I will not be held responsible for any structure fires in the name of 3D printing.

  Keep the heat and blower speed on the heat gun low and also keep the gun 6-8″ away from your 3D printed parts.  Move the heat gun quickly either left/right or up/down depending on the overall shape of the 3D printed part. 

Do not keep the heat gun focused on one place for too long.  This thermoforming method tends to go from nothing… to a hot drippy print quickly… so be prepared.

Once the print is heated, bend it anyway that you would like.  When the plastic cools, it will retain the shape that you manipulated it to.

 

Hot Water Bath Method

using thermoform to heat a piece in a skillet.

Thermoforming in an electric skillet.

The hot water bath method requires you to submerge the part into hot water until it becomes pliable.  This is, in my opinion, the superior way to thermoform as opposed to the heat gun.

This method allows the whole part to get to the same temperature.  The water doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be able to get around 200F/90c. 

 You can use a pot on the stove, hot water from a tea kettle into a dish, or even use an electric skillet like I do.  The skillet allows me to fully submerge large parts and is able to heat the water fairly quickly. 

After getting the water up to temperature, submerge your part until it becomes pliable.  Remove the part from the water with some tongs and cool for a few seconds as to not burn your hands. 

Once it’s cool enough for you to safely touch, form it to your heart’s delight.  If you didn’t get it correct the first time, toss it back in the water and it will go back to it’s original shape.  Pretty handy huh?

 

But… Why?

joining the thermoform pieces to check the fit

Joining the thermoformed parts.

So you are probably wondering… why go through all this hassle?  Why not print the shape I wanted to begin with? Well, what if I told you that this would save you time, money, and filament.. while also strengthening your parts.  Buckle up and prepare to be amazed!

 

E-Nable Applications

The forearm gauntlet and bicep cuff that I print for the E-Nable 3D printed hands now print completely flat.  This wasn’t always the case.  Some models printed the forearm gauntlet vertically while some printed along the X or the Y axis.

  The problem with this, is that the holes for the wrist and elbow pins are set along a layer line.  This makes the design prone to breaking and cracking. 

The old style gauntlets also suffer from being ill fitting and less forgiving to flexion.  Which, are all terrible compromises for something that is meant to be worn on your arm.

old style gauntlet, non thermoform

Old style gauntlet, Layer lines running through the pin hole

The thermoformed gauntlets print faster, than the old style because they require no support structure.  This saves you money on printer operation AND on filament.  The thermoformed gauntlets are also much stronger than the old style.

Instead of the pin holes being on a layer line, they go all the way through the layers.  This reduces the possibility of cracking during use and improves flexion in the parts.  Using the thermoform gauntlets also promotes a better fit to the recipient.  If your measurements weren’t quite right, you now have the ability to quickly reheat the part and adjust it for a better fit.  

 

 

new style gauntlet, thermoform model

New style gauntlet, prints flat with pins going through all the layers for maximum strength.

You can use the thermoform principles in parts design.  Was the design that you were originally working on too

difficult to print?  Try adjusting it for thermoform! 

 

The Draw Backs

The only downside to this design method is that parts are not ready directly from the print bed, they require post processing with either of the methods that I described above.  I’ve also noticed that too hot of temperatures can affect the 3D printed parts color and finish.  It would be best to try this on a scrap piece before you dedicate an important print job to this.  

Conclusion

So, today you’ve learned what thermoforming is, what it’s good for, and some of it’s drawbacks.  It’s up to you to either wipe your brain of the last 5-10 minutes or thermoform a 3D printed part……right…… now.

Check out the picture gallery below showing more of the thermoforming process.

Thank you for reading and I hope you learned something new.  If you enjoyed reading this, feel free to let me know.  Either leave me a comment below, or send me some money on PayPal.

  Any funds received will go towards the printing, assembly and shipping of 3D printed hands that will be donated free of charge.  I would like to thank Will and Lynn from Inov3d for all of their help.  I would also like to thank everyone in the E-Nable Community.

Do you own a Tevo Black Widow?  Do you use Cura 15.0.6?  Use my profile and get prints like me!  Check out this link to download my Cura profile now!

Want to get involved with E-Nable?  Go to their website, enablingthefuture.org, download the plans and print a hand!

Like what I am doing?  Check out my web page at Nubwerkes.com to see my other projects and builds!

 

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”83″ gal_title=”Thermo-form”]

 

 

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About Andrew Delisle

Andrew Delisle

I'm a father of four, happily married, IT professional with nearly 15 years in the field.

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70 Comments

  • william
    2018-03-17 16:26

    great work andrew keep the articles comeing

  • Ross Sage
    2018-05-26 22:24

    Very interesting concept

  • Tony
    2018-05-27 08:17

    Interesting. I will have to give this a go 🙂

  • JC
    2018-05-28 18:34

    Really interesting technique! Will have to give it a try

  • Anne
    2018-05-29 13:14

    This is such fascinating technology! Would love to try it out

  • Alberto
    2018-05-29 13:53

    I have to try it

  • Calvin
    2018-05-29 15:57

    Really complex neat new tech! Love what it can do

  • Mathew W
    2018-05-29 17:47

    3D printing is going to take the world by storm sooner than later.

  • Leanne
    2018-05-30 02:09

    I definitely learned something new (never heard of thermoforming). Also thank you for your donations and helping people in need .

  • Denis M.
    2018-05-30 04:44

    Wow, very interesting. Thanks for this, will be useful in the future.

  • Laurence Price
    2018-05-30 16:53

    Great contest, awesome prize, thanks for the chance to win!

  • Denis M.
    2018-06-02 01:57

    Thanks!

  • Robert Price
    2018-06-06 08:11

    Very interesting

  • Stevie
    2018-06-06 11:47

    I think The hot water bath method is easiest.

  • Doug Matheson
    2018-06-08 18:15

    Looks awesome

  • John Hubbard
    2018-06-08 20:00

    Looks cool

  • Leanne
    2018-06-08 22:37

    The 3d printing technology is just amazing . I would love to see it in person .

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-09 13:24

    i am very impressed with this although I would be using the hot water bath method I think!

  • Leanne
    2018-06-10 13:11

    3d printing technology sure is fascinating. Can’t wait to see what they can do with 3d printers in a few years .

  • Leanne
    2018-06-11 16:28

    Would love to try 3d printing . It’s is just amazing .

  • Justin Flugum
    2018-06-11 23:00

    I had no idea forming 3d prints was a thing.

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-12 02:04

    Well adding this is a great option, I’m pretty sure other materials can be used this way, for printing faster and to giving some on the road form.

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-12 15:44

    This really fascinates me – It would be great for using for making drawing models

  • Leanne
    2018-06-12 22:07

    3d printing is very fascinated. I would love the learn how to use a 3d printer .

  • Aftertell
    2018-06-13 00:58

    Coolio

  • Cole
    2018-06-13 02:10

    I imagine this is a useful process for creating stronger, more durable prosthetic limbs. I’m curious if this process would be useful in 3D-printed firearms making as well.

  • Chemy
    2018-06-13 03:38

    Again reading it, as many said, interesting technique.

  • Chemy
    2018-06-13 03:39

    As many said, interesting technique, I see the practical uses of it.

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-13 03:40

    My comments doesn’t show today, but good article. last attempt

  • Greg
    2018-06-13 17:39

    looks interesting!

  • Leanne
    2018-06-13 21:40

    Great article and info . Would love to learn more about how the 3d printing technology works. It’s very interesting

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-14 03:25

    Amazing, already read it a couple of times.

  • Daniel
    2018-06-14 05:35

    cool

  • Ian Edwards
    2018-06-14 10:22

    Very cool, nice to know for next time I am doing to same

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-14 12:24

    I am sure your work has helped many

  • Leanne
    2018-06-14 23:10

    Awesome article . This technology is so intriguing, I would love to try it or even just see how it works . Amazing what they are doing with 3d printers recently.

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-15 12:44

    I think this would helped with forming prototypes for metal work and sculpture

  • Arve Bjørnerud
    2018-06-15 14:22

    Cool

  • Leanne
    2018-06-15 21:59

    What an incredible technology. Can’t believe some of the things they are making with 3d printers . Would love to learn how to use one .

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-16 09:34

    E-Nable looks such a great cause – there are so many war injuries in so many countries

  • Leanne
    2018-06-16 15:12

    A very good cause you support . I love how many people this technology is helping , it’s pretty amazing .

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-17 10:26

    I like the way if you get it wrong the first time you can put it back in the water and it goes back into its original shape. as a newbie I think I would be doing this quite a lot to start with, its such an amazing product I can see so many possibilities for me

  • Thomas mclind
    2018-06-17 11:05

    Wow!

  • okuma
    2018-06-17 12:16

    I really hate support material, I’ll have to try this!

  • Kyle
    2018-06-17 17:03

    Never thought about doing this

  • Andrew Delisle
    2018-06-17 19:01

    Thanks for all the responses guys. Also, your comments won’t show right away as we have to approve them all individually. This helps us keep spam at bay. Thanks again guys and keep the comments flowing! If you need help or have an improvement.. let me know!

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-17 23:10

    Again nice article, there is another good reason, to convine two materials, for example if you need to add internal parts which might be very hard or imposible to do if the printed piece is already in the final shape

  • Joseph
    2018-06-18 07:30

    I’m just here to enter the contest

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-18 17:30

    The whole thing is fascinating – I have been looking at 3D printing as whole now as a possibility of a real hobby or, if I get the hang of it, a small business . I am astounded by what can be created

  • Leanne
    2018-06-18 22:12

    I am so impressed with how many things can be made from 3D printing . It’s amazing , I would love to learn how to use a 3d printer .

  • Leanne
    2018-06-19 22:43

    Awesome technology. Would love to learn how to use a 3d printer .

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-20 08:47

    Technology for artificial limbs has advanced rapidly in the last two decades thank goodness, and products like this are incredible

  • James McCann
    2018-06-20 18:53

    Major Cool!

  • Leanne
    2018-06-20 23:44

    Awesome technology . So many uses for 3d printing , can’t believe they are 3d printing houses nowadays.

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-21 04:15

    Nice article

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-21 09:15

    I think for what this incredible printer does it is really reasonably priced !

  • Bob Marl
    2018-06-21 23:28

    A few years ago 3D printing was only for the professionals, thank God such models have come out for the public.

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-22 02:46

    Great article, useful technique.

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-22 09:06

    I think this should l be in art courses in colleges etc as it is not just a science but an art

  • Leanne
    2018-06-22 22:10

    Awesome technology. Can’t wait to see what they can do with it in the future .

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-23 05:22

    Something I forgot to mention, it’s too nice from you that you donate, that’s simply wonderful.

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-23 06:47

    Thank you for the informative introduction to Thermoform

  • Dunfy
    2018-06-23 08:59

    Very dope!!! What a time to be alive lol

  • paula cheadle
    2018-06-24 00:08

    would love to try 3D printing, it looks awesome

  • PHILIP TAYLOR
    2018-06-24 09:24

    Thank you for the great video

  • Kim Styles
    2018-06-24 10:29

    this is a great prize and very generous. I would love to share this with my son who is very artistic and great with technology

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-24 11:21

    Nice article, 😉

  • Leanne
    2018-06-24 14:04

    Awesome article . This technology is so interesting. I would love to learn more about it .

  • James Nattrass
    2018-06-24 14:26

    Thanks for this, I’m going to test this method in the future

  • Chemy Torres
    2018-06-24 14:55

    I don’t know if you did it intentionally but each time I come here I see something I missed the moment before.
    As I said great technique, great article.

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