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I have a home built RepRap with all sides open..

Would there be any advantage to enclosing the print area in acrylic?

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It is hard to tell whether you personally should enclose your printer. However, you asked for the advantages and I will name some of them on which one can base a decision.

A 3D printer enclosure

  • helps to keep the temperature of the whole print at controlled levels, if you use a heating element, thermocouple and pid regulator. This is one of the most direct uses of the enclosure, which can be achieved by almost no other means. One could sloppily say it does for the whole print what the heatbed does for the initial layers. Controlling the temperature can be beneficial for layer adhesion and can help against delamination problems. This can go as far as fixing cracks and complete delamination (Thanks to @J. Roibal for bringing these cracks to my attention in the comments)
  • keeps dangerous fumes controlled. Here you can find a scientific study about it, published in Atmospheric Environment 79, titled 'ultrafine particle emission from desktop 3D printers, on exactly that topic. You can embed a filter with a fan in your housing to filter the air from all dangerous fumes that are created when melting certain plastic types. It could just circulate the air inside the chamber or get the filtered air out of the housing. This is another use which cannot be achieved otherwise (afaik).
  • can keep humidity away from your printer. This is helpful for filaments that attract water (and don't print well under that circumstance). This should be realized separately for stored filament, too, adding some silica gel to regulate humidity. (Thanks to @Obmerk Kronen in the comments)
  • minimizes losses of your heatbed. This happens in at least two ways, - the heated bed will also heat the surroundings, that is the inside of the enclosure. By raising its temperature, the temperature difference and hence heat loss is minimized. Also wind, introducing high fluctuations in the transfered (i.e. lost) heat is minimized. In that sense, it also
  • shuts out any wind for print temperature stability. Also dust and particles that could be blown on the print will be shut out (thanks to the addition of dust/particles: @Obmerk Kronen). This is a benefit that comes without having a heated chamber or filter.
  • helps to keep the printer clean in between use. Your axes will thank you being free from dust.
  • reduces smell and noise. If you use the printer in you living area, that alone can be a great benefit.
  • makes sure that your printer is safe during storage, nothing will fall on it.
  • can look pretty nice and add to the style of your printer, even if selfmade ;-)

There are obviously also downsides, as: connected work/money to make it, increased space used for the printer, and, if not well made for that purpose (which it should be), increased difficulty in repairs and maintenance of the printer itself (i.e. to get the printer out of the enclosure).

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  • $\begingroup$ From what I understand, certain types of filament must be enclosed to prevent cracking and deformation while printing due to cooling too rapidly. $\endgroup$ – J. Roibal - BlockchainEng Jun 12 '16 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a reference for that? I'd love to add the information to the answer! $\endgroup$ – kamuro Jun 12 '16 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ kamuro - I have been able to find a couple of references including a reddit post which discusses the issue of cracking being solved by an enclosure: reddit.com/r/3Dprinting/comments/2jn3en/… Additional post by "tommyph1208" goes into depth about this topic: ultimaker.com/en/community/… $\endgroup$ – J. Roibal - BlockchainEng Jun 12 '16 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Very good answer .You might add keeping out humidity . ( That is a plus also for filament chamber ) . and keeping draft ( wind ) from filament and print is a very important point - not just temperature but also dust particles .. $\endgroup$ – Obmerk Kronen Jun 13 '16 at 4:09
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    $\begingroup$ edited the info in, let me know if this is what you thought of. $\endgroup$ – kamuro Jun 13 '16 at 7:38
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@kamuro provided an excellent answer, so I'll just try to add by playing devil's advocate.

Possible things to look out for:

  • Inappropriate enclosure could result in more temperature differences, resulting in higher rates of warping and delamination. For example, if you do not enclose the top of your machine, then the temperature at the beginning of your print will be potentially different than further into the print.
  • Post-print delamination/warping. The same can be said for a printer without an enclosure. But if you are too eager to remove the print directly after printing, you run the risk of essentially "air quenching" the part. Instead, let the part sit in the warmer ambient temperature and become fully solid again.
  • Enclosures are not a "fix-all". Enclosures are merely a means of reducing variability in your process. As an operator, you should still fine-tune your process by finding the right extruder/HBP temperatures and quality materials to ensure repeatable, quality prints.
  • kamuro touched on this a bit, but difficulty performing maintenance. Speaking from experience, removing acrylic panels from a machine not designed to have an enclosure is pretty annoying. However, this could be alleviated with a better design. I chose to bolt my panels to my machine, but a snap design would fair better. Specifically, adjusting my belt tension became very difficult on my Replicator Dual after adding acrylic panels.
  • Don't make it too hot. I made a rookie mistake after adding an enclosure to my machine by using a space heater in the room next to the printer. The space heater oscillated and occasionally directed the heat at the machine. After a few failed prints, I noticed that the extra ambient heat in the room was causing the ABS arms for my HBP to warp under the heat/weight of the HBP. The enclosure wasn't the root cause, but it helped trap the extra heat inside the machine.
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    $\begingroup$ Fantastic addition, I did not consider many of these disadvantages to adding an enclosure. $\endgroup$ – J. Roibal - BlockchainEng Jun 14 '16 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, fantastic addition. However I wouldn't call most of these disadvantages, but merely disadvantages that come with design flaws ;) This will help makers tremendously when building their own enclosure! $\endgroup$ – kamuro Jun 14 '16 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @kamuro thanks, it was pretty difficult to come up with disadvantages. But I'd agree they're more of things to just look out for when adding an enclosure. Your answer is hard to top lol $\endgroup$ – tbm0115 Jun 14 '16 at 17:21
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People add a "passive heated chamber" when they are printing in ABS. However I personally think the best reason to have a custom chamber is so you can add an air filter. Adding an air filter will reduce your exposure to fine air particulates. It is generally considered a bad idea to breath in particles from plastic.

For PLA you will not want an air chamber. If you want to do an air scrubber they you will need air input to avoid the heat chamber from getting hot.

On that note as we see in the z18, PLA can benefit from an Active heat chamber, but you will have to figure out what the optimal temp is.

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