3D printed gears: all you need to create functional, cool gears

Have you ever stared long at your bicycle or non-digital clock and wondered what science hides behind how they function? Well, the simple answer is a single word- Gears. Gears, toothed objects responsible for the smooth operation of specific machines and objects, are vital parts of human existence in relation to machines.

They facilitate things like the direction of your device, time, and speed. Now, you might think gears are very complex-looking creations because of the deep work they perform, but they are not. They are pretty basic-looking objects. The only part of a gear that might look complex is the teeth. Aside from that, they look pretty straightforward, but they take on heavy-duty tasks.

However, gears shouldn’t be subjected to too much stress. Otherwise, they’ll break down. There’s wisdom and skill required to create the gear you need for your machine. With the advent of 3D printing technology, it’s not surprising that you’ll want to try to print out some gears for some of your devices.

I’ll walk you through everything you need to design the perfect 3D printed gears for your simple machines and appliances. We all know that creating metal gears requires skill and technique. Luckily, creating a 3D printed gear requires knowledge about gear designs and technique- you can grow the skill in the process. Without further ado, let’s dive in already.

Pre-Printing Phase

Before diving into creating functional 3D-printed gears, you should get certain things in place. These include the right design for the machine or appliance, the right materials, size, etc. The reason is, while 3D printing speeds up the gear manufacturing process, you want to ensure that the result of the 3D printed gears is durable enough for the application your need it to fit. Let’s dive into some of these details so you’ll get a clearer picture of what we mean.

  • Know your 3D printer’s limit: The first thing you want to do in the pre-printing phase is check your 3D printer. You want to be sure it can print out, with accuracy, the gear you need. Specifically, check the capacity of your printer as regards the gear tooth size. Also, ensure your 3D printer is compatible with the filament you’ve decided to use.
  • Design: The design is another factor to consider before creating your functional 3D-printed gears. You have to get the design right if you want the 3D-printed gear to work correctly. When creating your 3D printer gear design, there are some parameters you should consider.

They include pitch diameter, modules, face widths, pressuring angles, etc. Furthermore, consider using the Involute spur gear system when designing your functional gear as it is the better option. When following this gear design, you have to watch out for the teeth’ mating surface to ensure they have a single-point meeting. To achieve this teeth mating surface, you’ll need to create your tooth profile with the involute spur gear system.

If you’re not familiar with gear parameters and gear generators, an easy way to create your gear is to deploy specific design tools. While you won’t need to know all the parameters required in gear manufacturing, some parameters would help you work with these design tools effortlessly.

  • Materials: While 3D-printed gears might have a bit of strength, they’ll never come close to metal gears. However, if you’ll deploy 3D printing in gear manufacturing, do it right by deploying solid and durable materials that’ll still make the gear functional in its context.

The best filaments to consider for 3D printing gear manufacturing are thermoplastics. The best thermoplastics to use are PLA, Nylon, PETG, and ABS. All four of these thermoplastics have their strengths and weaknesses. For starters, if you’re looking to conserve energy while printing, you should choose PLA.

It is made from eco-friendly materials like sugarcane and cornstarch. It is also great for durability. For improved durability, the Nylon material is your best bet. It is not only durable; it is also flexible and resilient. The best part is, you can combine Nylon material with other materials.

PETG is the better option for heat resistance and flexibility. It is also warp-resistant. On the other hand, ABS is enforced with fantastic mechanical properties that make it the soothing choice for gear manufacturing. A downside to this filament is that it consumes too much energy and warps easily.

Before commencing 3D printing gear manufacturing, you should consider the teeth size and shaft coupling too.

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Printing Phase

You can start printing your gear after carefully selecting your materials, the right size, 3D printer gear design, teeth size, etc. While the 3D printer does most of the printing work for you, there are specific tips you should know before and while printing your gears. Religiously following these tips would help you print a solid gear that would be functional, although it might not be as strong as metal gears.

  • Layering: The first thing to look out for is installing your layers into the orientation. It determines the gear teeth’s strength, and the best way to throw the layer into the orientation is face-down. Another thing is the layer height.

It determines how much detail your object has and the resolution of the object. If there is no adequate space between the bed and nozzle, it will mess up your layer height. The appropriate layer height in printing improves the durability and strength of the gear.

  • Infill Overlap: The infill overlap while 3Dprinting is significant as it adds to the strength of your gear. 3D printing grants you the liberty to adjust the infill overlap while printing your object. You get to decide how much infill overlap you want your gear to have.

When it comes to how much infill overlap to add to your 3D printing gear, a higher percentage of infill overlap results in a thicker and stronger gear, which is necessary for gear manufacturing.

  • Filament: Understanding the filament you’re working with is crucial because it would get you the best result. You’ll know the right temperature for the filament and the object you’re printing, so you won’t mess up the entire print.

With adequate knowledge of how your filament works, you’ll decide if you’ll need heating beds for the printed objects to prevent wrapping by slowing down the cooling process. The filament you use will also help you determine if you need to turn on/off your cooling fan while printing your object. Basically, you’ll be able to execute the dos and don’ts of your preferred filament, so you’ll get the best object.

  • Settings: Ensure that the other slicer settings are set to boost the object’s strength. The key to achieving 3D printed gears strength is to ensure every setting on the 3D printer favors the gear strength before and during the printing process.

Post-printing Phase

After successfully 3D printing small gears or your preferred gear size, you must prepare your gear to fit into the application you created it for. One way to do that is to lubricate it. Lubricating your 3D printed gears is crucial because, although they are durable, they are not as durable as machine-designed gears.

So, once you install the gear and start to operate your device, the gear might break down from wear and tear. Before installing the 3D-printed gears, take the time to lubricate them. Remember that the 3D-printed gear is nothing like the metal gears you’re familiar with in machines. As a result, you’ll need to lubricate the 3D-printed gears from time to time, so it doesn’t break down.

You should know that when lubricating 3D-printed gears, you have to pay attention to the material you use. There are specific lubricants that are better suited for the four material types. So, don’t simply jump on a random lubricant- you could ruin the gear in the process. Here’s a tip; PLA is compatible with vegetable oils since it is made from natural materials, while ABS and Nylon work best with oil-based lubricants because of their characteristic features.

Wrap up

The key to successfully printing functional 3D printed gears is to get your 3D printer setting right, design your gears appropriately and pay attention to the 3D printer material or filament you choose. Take time to understand the dos and don’ts of each filament so that you won’t mess up the gear. Also, you can’t ignore the temperature setting and the cooling process.

Always keep your eyes on the printing process while printing the gears. You don’t want unexpected circumstances to occur and go out of hand in the blink of an eye. Finally, once you’ve got the gear, do not forget to lubricate. The durability and long-term use of the 3D printed gears depend on lubricating them before you install them.

Then, occasionally, take out these gears to lubricate them. You’ll extend its lifespan that way. Lubrication is an important phase because 3D-printed gears are less strong than their metal counterparts. But, they come in handy, especially when it is not a prototype.


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