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DIY 3D Printer Enclosure Guide

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DIY 3D Printer Enclosure Guide

Bill of materials, full assembly guide and files included!
3D Printer Enclosure
Heat retention Ender 3 enclosure

Background

When I joined the company a few years ago it was in the middle of a new project where every problem had to be designed, prototyped and tested in a matter of days. Despite the long hours at the office, endless redrawing of CAD models and constantly searching for an available machinist to turn our designs into parts, we barely made it before the deadline. No matter how much we wanted to move forward, the metal shop took 2 days to cut a bar of aluminum, the CNC mill was booked for a week and everything we ordered took forever to arrive.

For the next project we decided to order some of the parts from a 3D printing shop. It was an improvement to some extent, as the technology allowed for some brave designs and was considerably cheaper. Still, it took at least a week for our order to be accepted, printed and delivered. Then we decided to buy our own printer. We chose the Creality Ender 3 due to its popularity and low price. As with every new tool, it took a few months to get used to the workflow, optimize the designs and try different settings but it definitely was a step in the right direction.

Today, we use plastic prototypes in almost every project. Buying a 3D printer gave us the freedom to go through a few iterations of a given part in less than 24 hours, independent of subcontractors and at much lower cost. We have been using Ender 3 and CR10 for more than a year now and through lots of reading and printing we have tweaked them for optimum performance. One of the latest improvements we made was the printer enclosure, described in this post.

The purpose of an enclosure

For our first prints we used a spool of PLA – maybe the most common filament among beginners. It worked great for benchmark and artistic parts but we soon realized PLA is a rather weak material. It is quite brittle and has very low glass transition temperature – loses its rigidity at about 40 deg C. That’s why we ordered ABS and PETG – stronger materials, suitable for functional parts, but harder to work with. One of the main problems with ABS was that it contracted significantly with cooling increasing the chance of warping, layer separation and generally unusable parts. 80% of the prints were ruined due to the part separating from the bed because of the warping. Beside costing us time and money, it was very frustrating, especially for larger print jobs.

ABS warping example

The enclosure greatly improved the situation by keeping the air around the print warm, allowing for gradual and even cooling of the part. It also reduced the noise from the machine and organized the space around the printer and its components and tools.

Design considerations

The most important step of a successful design is to determine what do we want to achieve. For the enclosure we made, the main goals were:

  • heat retention to improve ABS quality
  • space optimization in the office
  • modularity and ease of assembly
  • minimize cost

We decided to use aluminum extrusions for the frame, high density fiberboard (HDF) for walls and extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation sheets to keep the heat in. We made our own double glass window to be able to monitor the print and printed a handle and a door lock. The filament spool and electronics were taken out of the box to prevent them from overheating. LED lights were attached to the sides and top. We used spray paint to finish the enclosure.

We decided to build two similar standalone enclosures, one on top of the other, and have both printers in the same place, saving valuable floor space. Currently, we have built only the enclosure for the Ender 3, keeping width and depth larger so that CR10 could fit neatly above.

In the following sections you can find a complete bill of materials, the assembly guide and all the files we used to cut and print the parts for this project.

Prep and assembly

Bill of materials – click on each tab to see details!

— link to files —

https://grabcad.com/library/3d-printer-enclosure-10

Looking into the CAD model during assembly will help you a lot!

Step 1: Separete electronics from the printer

The Ender 3 is a compact printer, with all its power and control components attached somewhere on the frame. Otherwise a nice feature, in our case that was a problem because we wanted to separate the printer from the electronics. Hence, we had to disassemble the power supply, control board and monitor, extend all wires appropriately and wire them back inside the enclosure. It is a good idea to take a few photos of the control board, noting all the wires and where they are connected. The end stops and the motor wires are properly labeled with X / Y / Z / E tags (X,Y,Z  for motors and end stops and E for extruder motor), however all wires are the same color – black. It is vital not to mix those wires as this will lead to problems and will be very hard to debug. What we did was to cut and extend every wire for itself, keeping the rest of the bundle uncut (end stops use a pair of wires and motors use four wires) until the first one was finished. Once you have extended all the wires, plug them back in and check that all works as expected.

Note! : Extruder motor will not work until the hot end temperature is high enough – about 175 deg C for the Ender 3!

 

Disassembled Ender 3 - power supply, control board and display separated

Step 2: Change extruder position

Another issue that had to be attended was the filament path from the spool to the extruder. As the filament spool was placed outside the box and above the printer (we printed new spool holders), we repositioned the extruder on the top side of the printer frame using a simple flat bracket. This allowed for straight filament path from the spool to the extruder combined with the original PTFE tube connecting the extruder with the hot end. 

 

Repositioned extruder
Extruder flat bracket attached to the top of the printer frame

Step 3: Electronics and LED wiring 

Also, we connected the LED strip to the 24V printer power supply and printed additional control board cover and display holder. We used Wago nuts to connect the power wire to the actual LED so that we could easily mount and unmount the LED strip during installation. Also, be careful with LED polarity as it only works in the correct direction.

 

LED strip attached to power supply with Wago nuts
LED strip wiring
Display with custom printed holder
Control board cover attaches to the original box

Step 4: Frame assembly

 

The HDF sides were cut on a CNC router and spray painted. The XPS sheets were cut to fit the spaces between the frame extrusions. 

Once all components had been prepared, we started putting them together. First was the aluminum frame – 20×20 mm extrusions, connected with hidden brackets. We added four more brackets on the front side to make the frame more stable.

Finished frame
Hidden brackets fit in the extrusions slots
Reinforced front side

Don’t forget the three extrusions on the left – that is where the electronics will go! We made a M6 thread in the bottom of each short extrusion and drilled three 7 mm holes in the long one (see image below). Then attached the shorts with a screw from the inside.

Hole locations for shelf fasteners
Shelf extrusions attachment

Step 5: HDF & XPS installation

Then we placed the bolts and nuts on the HDF sheets. We also attach the spool holders and door handle to the HDF at this point, as later on would be harder to fit the nuts in the slots. 

Bolt and T-nut mounted on a HDF sheet

With all the fasteners in place, we positioned the sheets on the appropriate side of the frame and tightened the bolts.

Extrusions frame with some of the HDF sides

After we had attached some of the sheets, we started gluing the XPS insulation. This way we had easy access to the inside of the enclosure. Note that you don’t need a single piece of XPS for a given wall – as long as you have enough material to cover the whole area, you can use smaller pieces and glue them separately (see front door image).

Note: the bottom XPS sheets are not glued to the HDF and only keep their position because of the tight fit with the frame.

Enclosure with some of the XPS glued to the HDF

When the sides and top were ready, we slid in the bottom and bolted the shelf on the left.

Finished sides, top, bottom, shelf and spool holders

Step 6: Door assembly – glass and lock

Finally, we glued the two pieces of glass on the front door. Using silicone, we glued one of them to the inner side of the HDF and the other to the XPS so that the air trapped inside served as an insulator. We added the door lock and hinges.

Double glass window assembly
Door lock assembly - the green part is mounted to the box and the blue to the door
Assembled front door with double glass widow, handle, lock and hinges
The finished enclosure with all HDF and XPS sheets, door, handle, lock, hinges, shelf and spool holders

Step 7: Printer installation and initial testing

With the enclosure itself complete, we installed the printer inside. All the wires pass through a hole near the bottom. In our case it was easier to disconnect some of the wires from the printer (end stops, motors) and disconnect some of them from the control board (bed and hot end heating and sensors). This led to hanging cables on both sides which had to be carefully passed through the hole in the wall.

Tip! After you have reconnected the printer, turn it on and try autohome, heating and extruder (or even print a sample) to make sure everything works fine.

Printer placed in the enclosure with all the wires fed through the electronics opening
The electronics shelf with the power, control board ( + new case), display ( + new stand) and filament spool holders

Step 8: LED strip mounting

Finally, we installed the LED strip. The original glue from the strip did not hold well to the XPS sheet so we added some DIY wire clips to hold it in place.

Added LED strip
LED strip wire clips added to hold it in place

Once you add the LEDs, you can plug in the power and check that everything works properly.

Results

Here is the final view of the enclosure as well as some comparison images of ABS prints with and without the enclosure. 

Finished printer enclosure
ABS prints with (bottom right) and without (top, bottom left) the enclosure

Planned improvements

We are quite happy with the enclosure performance – prints are definitely smoother, significantly reduced warping, no bed separation and less energy consumption. Our office is more organized, too! We are starting a few weeks test period to analyze the enclosure in operation. After that we will build the second enclosure for our CR10. More, we will try to automate the printing process adding a Raspberry Pi computer with the Octopi OS. 
If you have any ideas for improvements or just found the project interesting and helpful, let us know in the comment section below!

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