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The art of the failed 3D print: Some happy accidents...

It will absolutely happen to you.  Once you have built, bought, or otherwise acquired a 3D printer, it might even happen on your very first attempt to print something.  You will have a failed print.

Most of the time, prints fail in decidedly uninteresting, mundane, and often downright boring ways.  Maybe your extruder will just stop extruding, at the same time failing to mention it to the rest of the printer, which will happily crank along, wheezing and whirring along its axes, while accomplishing absolutely nothing. You’ll look over to see how things are progressing, and you’ll simply see that for several minutes apparently, they haven’t.

In this case, there is nothing to do but stop the printer, remove the now largely useless chunk of plastic from the print bed, and either give up in frustration, or start over again.

Sometimes, though, cool things happen.

Here are two failed prints that I created this week, in two completely different ways, with completely different, but still very cool results:

The first one was a problem I really didn’t see coming.  As I have discussed elsewhere on this site, I use Slic3r as my primary slicing engine.  I also print almost exclusively using the SD card reader on my printer.  My previous practice had been to export finished G-code directly to the card, bypassing the computer’s hard disk entirely.  I no longer recommend this practice.  Here’s what happened:


Skull face with cap missing

It looks like someone failed to duck, but it was actually an unexpected end to a G-code file.

About 11 hours into this print, I watched the LCD screen count up slowly through 98-99%, and wondered how it could possibly be that this much of the top of the skull was only one percent of the total G-code.  Well, it turns out it wasn’t.  The file had been written to the SD card, at least as much as would fit.  I would have thought that Ubuntu would have thrown an error, as it often does when I’m otherwise trying to move large files.  Instead, it just stopped writing when the card was full, which was a problem, since there was a good chink of data that didn’t get written.  I figured this out when I opened the .gcode file in a text editor, and saw that the usual finishing code was missing, and that the file was significantly smaller than another copy that I later exported tot he hard disk from Slic3r.

Hmmm, go figure…

Top of Skull

The print failed gracefully, at least, as the sharpness of the honeycomb infill shows.

Side of the Skull

It’s clear here just where the G-code file ended unexpectedly.

Of course, when life gives you lemons, it is imperative to make lemonade!

Skull Lollypop holder

Much less scary, but way more fun!

A few days later, I attempted to print a plate full of a dozen pencil toppers that I had found on Thingiverse.  I did something that I knew I shouldn’t have done, and that was actually kind of dangerous.  I started a print, then after seeing that the first few layers were looking pretty good, I left the house.

Really, really, don’t do that!  The risks are many and varied.  The lowest-stakes possibility is that your print could fail, leaving otherwise nice and perfectly useful filament strewn all over your print area.  Probably the most serious possibility is that your printer could catch on fire, and probably end up burning all kinds of things in its immediate vicinity.  So anyway, don’t do that!

I came home and discovered a gigantic bush of orange anger hair pasta all over and around my printer.  Oddly enough, in the middle of the noodles, I found something I’m pretty sure I had seen before, but only in science fiction monster movies.

ABS Creature

This is the “Cheeto Monster” I found when I got home!

Seriously, this thing reminded me a little of the “Chest Burster” from Alien, and any number of weird things created by Rob Bottin, for the 1982 version of The Thing.

The ABS had managed to clump in a way that looked bizarre and quite organic.

Monster Head

Here is the business end of the ABS creature!


ABS monster face


So it came to be that my attempt to make Halloween-themed things out of plastic in some sense failed, but in another sense succeeded beyond what I could have ever imagined!  I love this printer!

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