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Recently I noticed a small issue with my Creality Ender 3, where I would come home and find one of the bed leveling wheels had fallen off. This one wheel keeps vibrating loose. It's not really affecting my prints for some reason, so I just kind of let it happen.

Yesterday I started an 8 hour print and left. When I came home, I heard a loud buzzing noise. I walk into my room and smell a burning smell. I see the printer has extruded plastic all over the place. PLA is all over the floor. The plastic its extruding is normal filament, not extruded plastic; the nozzle is gone. Not entirely sure how it came out, because it was tight.

I switch off the printer and assess the damage.

  • The nozzle is on the floor, covered in a big blob of plastic.

  • The stock fiberglass build plate is nowhere to be seen; I think it fell behind the desk the printer is on.

  • The friction surface below the plate is covered with scratches and blobs of plastic - that needs to be replaced as well.

  • Two of the bed leveling wheels are gone. One is on the floor, and the other probably fell behind the desk like the build plate.

  • The hotend fan has filament going through it. It's missing three blades. Two of them fell on the floor, and one fell into the hotend and melted, making the burning smell.

  • The hotend is covered in melted plastic.

  • The heater block has lots of plastic jamming the hole where the nozzle goes.

Where do I go from here? How do I fix this? Is this fixable?

What should I do to make sure this doesn't happen again?

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    $\begingroup$ And what's the question? I see a list of parts you need to replace or reinstall, and some need for better technique (keeping your leveling knobs tighter so they don't work loose as easily), plus a need to ensure your nozzle is tightened periodically (and likely a new nozzle, now) -- but not a question... $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 2, 2021 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon Added questions $\endgroup$
    – Proxy303
    Nov 2, 2021 at 14:21

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From your description, it looks like you need a new hot end (inexpensive and readily available wherever you bought your Ender 3 -- it'll include a 0.4 mm nozzle, but it wouldn't be a bad thing to get some spares -- a new fan to replace the broken one (same), and a slight change of technique in leveling your bed. The hot bed is fine, as long as the heater and thermistor aren't damaged -- that aluminum surface is only there to support the build surface.

You'll want to adjust or modify the Z-stop switch bracket to lower the bed a couple millimeters, in order to be able to tighten all four adjusting knobs completely and then back them off about 2-3 turns, and still get correct bed clearance. Setting your leveling this way will leave enough compression in the springs that the knobs won't move (as much) when the machine is running; you'll only need to reset the clearance every 2-3 prints instead of having it go out before you finish a print. You might also consider buying a set of four nuts to jam against the knobs when the bed is properly set; that will fully lock the leveling knobs and may mean you only have to adjust the bed when you change filament material or replace a nozzle.

From my own experience, I'd also recommend getting a glass build surface (see above for cost and availability -- you shouldn't be up to $50 in parts yet even with the new surface), and planning to use the uncoated side. A couple glue sticks and a bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol will complete the upgrade on the bed side (and the thickness of the glass might mean you don't need to modify your Z-stop mount). If the clamps that came with your fiberglass surface are gone or not large enough for the glass, you can get larger ones at any office supply store.

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    $\begingroup$ I already bought a glass bed, arriving tomorrow. My printer is running custom firmware on the stock mainboard, and I have manual mesh bed leveling. Why do I need glue sticks? The bed has the aluminum plate, but it also has a glossy black surface on it. This is a magnetic surface from when I used a magnetic bed, before that got creased and was in general a pain to manage. I never removed the magnetic surface, and instead just put the new plate on top. $\endgroup$
    – Proxy303
    Nov 2, 2021 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ My glass surface works fine on the base mat from a magnetic one, just clamped down with paper clamps. Glue sticks are to get the prints to reliably stick to the bare glass and then lift off when cool; isopropyl is to spread and remove the glue stick. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 2, 2021 at 14:53
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To address the second question "How to stop this happening again"

You should check-in on your printer more often, get someone at home to look, or find some way to monitor it remotely/automatically.

If you're at home, just go look at it periodically. I'm tempted to move the printer into the room where I am more, but the noise upsets the dog so I've left it running in the garage.

If you're out, there are plenty of camera solutions, though be wary of privacy. Personally I use a cheap USB webcam attached to a Pi running octoprint, and I check the picture stream from work, and can stop the print if it starts going badly.

There exist optional modules like SpaghettiDetective which can monitor that same stream and decide if it's all going wrong. I've not used this yet, but its on the todo list.

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