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Backstory

I've had issues in the past with my drive gear "eating" my filament. It seemed that the filament quit extruding for one reason or another and the drive gear would slowly eat away at the side of the filament.

I eventually assumed it was the plastic filament guides causing unnecessary tension that the drive gear couldn't compete with, ultimately keeping the filament from moving forward. Thusly, allowing the drive gear to continue "trying".

My solution was to hang my spools above the machine to avoid using the filament guides feeding from the back of the machine up through the top.

Question

Can the plastic filament guides really cause that much drag? What other variables can I expect to look out for?

Machine: MakerBot Replicator Dual (1st Generation)

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For an easy test, try manually pulling the filament through the U-loop of guide tube. How hard is it to pull through? It should only take 1-2 lbs of tension at most.

Then do a "tug test" on the extruder. Start it loading and grab the filament by hand to try to stop it from extruding. The Replicator 1/2/2x extruder style can typically pull ~8-10 lbs of tension and it should be fairly difficult to stop the filament. When you do stop the filament, you should hear clicking/thumping from the stepper stalling, NOT quiet grinding as the drive gear chews through the filament. If the grip slips rather than stalls, your extruder hardware needs to be tuned or replaced.

There are three common causes of excessive feed tube drag:

  • Use of polyethylene tubing instead of PTFE -- this makes a shockingly large difference in drag friction. You can use a heat gun or torch (outside!!) to tell the difference between PE and PTFE. PE will soften quickly and then melt fairly easily, whereas PTFE will simply go clear and eventually char without melting. Nylon is also sometimes used for feed tubes with acceptable results, but if you have any suspicion about the tube material, just buy new PTFE tubes from a reputable vendor like McMaster.
  • Too many loops/curves in the tube. Total drag friction is an exponential function of the total amount of curvature in the tube. You should have one good U-loop, no spirals or floppy zig-zags.
  • Excessive friction on the spool rotation. Any spool back-tension gets greatly magnified through the feed tube per the capstan equation. This can be caused by a bad spool holder, or if the filament is knotted on the spool due to letting the end of the spool loose during handling.
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I have a few hundred printing hours on a Monoprice Dual Extrusion, which is essentially the same thing. I've had a couple random issues that lead to filament stripping by the extruder motor:

  • Clogs (either a buildup of material over time, or from over-retraction)
  • Filament kinks around the spool holder
  • Some other restriction of the spool's rotation

I suspected the guides early on, but the grips on the rotor are actually fairly strong and the guide tubes are smooth enough to not cause a problem by themselves; I'd recommend looking at the other ends of the assembly first, as they're more likely to cause a problem. If you preheat the nozzle, open the tensioner on the extruder stepper, and can't push the filament into the nozzle with your fingers, the motor won't be able to do it either.

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The friction inside of the guide tubes is fairly minimal assuming that the lines are straight and there isn't anything else inside them. My guess would be that you may have another issue. Reducing the drag in the guide tubes while it may reduce the problem of clogged nozzle, might just be hiding the symptoms of another problem.

I've heard, but never tried adding a dab of Canola oil to the tip of your filament prior to feeding it into your extruder. Specifically for Makerbots.

Link my source: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/makerbot/Wn-MKC1Ybm0%5B1-25%5D

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