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Mechanical Testing 3D Printed Parts: Results

and Recommendations
One of my projects this summer has been analyzing the mechanical properties of 3D printed
parts using a homemade testing machine. Ive been trying to figure out how to optimize
the printer settings to maximize the physical strength of parts while minimizing the plastic
needed to make them.
As simple as smashing a few pieces of plastic sounds, Ive had to face a fair amount of
challenges on this little project. Theres a reason for the general lack of test data on this
topic. Its not just a matter of sitting down and pumping it out, but rather spending a lot of
time redoing tests and staring at graphs that dont make sense.
In this post I want to discuss some of the challenges Ive encountered and share the results
Ive been able to produce so far, including what I now consider to be the best infill
pattern.
Heres the quick recap of the experimental test setup:

All specimens were 3D printed on my FDM type Reprap PrintrBot, using


Slic3r and Repetier Host software.

All specimens were made of ABS filament from the same roll.

All tests were run in a static 4 point bend configuration using TestrBot.

Three of each specimen were used for each variable tested.

A white 3D printed specimen with awful hand writing on it.

Parts were printed with different infill patterns and orientations to


determine their strong and weak axes.
Testing Challenges:
For science to work properly I had to double check that my results were actually caused by
the variable I was trying to test rather than by something else that interfered. And there were
many potential sources of unintended interference:
Artifacts of Software Processing Magic: The programs I use to prepare my 3D
models for printing are good, but they arent perfect. Theres a lot going on behind the
scenes in this software and there are many seemingly innocuous settings that can have
huge effects on the printed part.
One example I encountered was that playing with the extrusion width can greatly affect the
mass and relative strength of the finished part, even while keeping all other settings
constant. The crazy thing is that this effect is completely unpredictable! Try to find a pattern
in this fancy pants graph.

Ya know, maybe Ill just leave the extrusion width settings at their
default values.
Artifacts of Physical Manufacturing: My 3D printer is home built and has its own
unique set of quirks (by which I mean I have to hit it sometimes). One of the biggest

concerns here was the need to be aware of minute printing imperfections and even subtle
amounts of warping. Any warping could cause the specimen to fall over prematurely, rather
than break, resulting in a lower ultimate load. Testing three specimens per variable helps
weed out outliers, unless of course your printer messes up three times in a row!
Artifacts of Testing: Human interference, changing ambient environment, and test
fixture instability can all become the cause for a bad test run. In the example below the
specimen yielded so much that it eventually came into contact with a screw on the test
fixture, causing the load to spike. All data beyond the purple arrow is useless.

Results and Recommendations:


Despite the above challenges I was able to run enough good tests to confidently make some
reasonable evidence based conclusions. These are my recommendations for maximizing the
strength of 3D printed parts:

The rectilinear infill pattern is the most efficient use of plastic and
it also prints at the fastest rate! (The first part was unexpected!) The other
two most useful infill patterns, hexagonal and 3D honeycomb, were
slightly weaker in terms of yield stress per unit weight of plastic used.
They also took 30% longer to print than rectilinear.

The primary problem with the hex and honeycomb patterns is their inefficient use of plastic
infill near inside walls and their asymmetrical lattice structures. The dimensions of the combs
are determined by the percent infill you choose rather than as a function of the space they
are trying to fill. The result is that they dont fit evenly into the shape and one side ends up
being weaker.

Yes I reported
units in American Standard AND Metric. The absolute values dont
matter here, all Im try to do is compare them relative to each other.

To maximize the strength of prints for specific applications, orient your


infill pattern to be normal to applied bending loads, and at 45 degrees
from applied tensile loads.

Printing the specimens from the top orientation was a loss all around. The
resulting failure mode was a delamination of the outer layers. (Note that if
I had printed these specimens oriented vertically their bending strength
would undoubtedly have been much worse.)

The lesson here is that both the load orientation and print orientation have a significant effect
on the strength of FDM 3D printed parts.

Always print parts with 3 perimeters on all sides. The overall quality and
print strength is greatly increased by having more than one perimeter, but
the returns diminish soon after for multiple perimeters. (The exact
diminishing rate will vary based on the part geometry & dimensions.)

The strength of materials as a function of infill percentage can be


adequately approximated as a linear relationship. I saw no diminished
return in strength no matter how much plastic you use.

And finally, my earlier experiments showed that acetone vapor treatment


reduces the strength of ABS plastic parts by a measurable amount; for
me it was almost 20 %under bending loads.

.
Im happy with the progress Ive made so far. Not only has my cheap little testing machine
proven adequate for my needs, but Ive recently become aware of two separate individuals
who are attempting to build their own TestrBot to continue this line of work!