Introduction: 6 Custom Rings Small Production Run Completed in 40 Minutes

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.
After 2 weeks of practice and several hours focused just on getting the print control software settings accurate I am sharing what I learned in this instructable on my first small production run. 

To get to this point I completed the following

1) test printed 6+ rings of different styles and settings
2) test printed this exact ring 3 times to test for errors
3) chose a draft mode for faster printing

This production run although small is a real world example of what it takes to scale from a single print, to sets of 3, and finally to a set of 6 printed as duplicate models.

I made it at Techshop with a Type A Machines Series 1 3D Printer
Submitted by SFlettering for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Tracking Your Past Work - How to Store Your Work to Enhance Learning

It is best to keep both a visual (photographs) and written (notes) record of your prints. (Even better to write instructables if you want feedback). While you are tracking your progress consider how you are going to label and store printed models that look identical and are from a different stage of your printing practice. 

One way as shown here is to use painters tape to keep the rings in place and in order. 

Tip: When writing on painters tape with a sharpie the ink can smudge - better choices for writing onto painters tape include using a ball point pen.

Step 2: Starting the Print - What to Look For

When starting your print on a "production run" make sure that

1) each model starts the first print layer correctly
2) each model sticks properly to the print surface
3) each model does not overlap (overalap on the outer ring did not create problems)

When starting your prints pay careful attention to all these aspects for the best quality results.

TIP: I advise that you print successfully at least 2-3 times before doing a production run. It is important to dial in your settings and produce a single set and a mini set (of 3) before printing 6 at once as problems will be magnified when printing 6 and these could have been worked out in earlier prints.

Step 3: Model Print Path: Understanding What the Printer Is About to Do

After printing for 15 hours and performing multiple experiments I learned the importance of undestanding all aspects of what is shown in the print control panel software Pronterface. There might be better software available, but the pronterface interface works really well through repeated testing. 

In this image you can see the printer path. The past layers are shown in black and the current layer is shown in red. By watching these layers you can predict how the printer will move.

TIP: The printer path could be optimized in your gcode if you really understand 3D printing and product design.

Step 4: Model Close Up - Great Results of the Lettering and Layers

Here you can see the great results that came from 4 practice prints and a final production run of 6 duplicate rings with the exact same text. 

NOTE: Pronterface trial version only allows loading a single model and although you can print duplicates you are not able to print multiple versions all at once. 

TIP: after printing let the printed models cool for at least a few seconds before taking it off the print surface to avoid moving the 3D printed model while the PLA is still hot/warm.

Step 5: Left Over PLA: Reading the PLA Tea Leaves to Optimize Print Results

Like fortune tellers, Makers who use 3D printers can learn many things from the left over PLA after your print is finished. In this image you can see from the PLA which is intact and did not break when coming off the print surface that the print went well and the process is a good process to follow in the future. 

If you had leftover PLA that included malformed pieces or PLA that was broken due to heat settings or other issues you can learn how to improve by paying attention to what is left over. 

TIP: Read the PLA tea leaves and gain insight into what to change to optimize printing. 

Step 6: Final Print Done in 40 Minutes - 6 Duplicate Rings Printed All at Once

When printing on the 3D printer for hours the user can sometimes forget the joy they experienced when they first printed. To keep the enjoyment levels high consider 

1) printing models that take 50 minutes or less
2) printing models from thingiverse in addition to custom designed models
3) using thingiverse customizer app to practice printing and learn new things
4) print gifts to keep your focus on high quality

From this small production run of 6 custom rings I learned that the reliability of the machine is very impressive. Each ring appears exactly like all others and the quality is consistent between each individual ring. 

In future instructables I will review the print times for larger production runs and when printing at different qualities.

For comparison purposes

1 ring took ~7 minutes
3 rings took ~13 minutes
6 rings took ~40 minutes

What I learned from analyzing the print times is that what I thought would take <26 minutes based on the print time for 3 duplicate rings ended up taking longer. I will need to experiment longer to determine what factors that I did not consider made the print time longer.