One of the most important and expensive components of any 3D printer is the power supply. The power supply sits between the wall outlet (the AC power source) and the rest of the machine (usually the DC power source) and is the backbone of the entire electrical system inside the printer. However, not every part of a printer is a “power hog.” So which parts of the machine require the most energy?
Heating is an important part of FDM printers, and the heating element is usually the largest power consumer in the entire system. In most printers, there are two main heating subsystems, which are:
● Extruder Heater: The heating element of the extruder is responsible for heating the hot end to the correct temperature for melting the filament. Maintaining the proper temperature is critical as the material can fail if it is too cold or too hot. Generally, extruder heaters are resistive elements on the order of ohms. Drawing power according to Ohm’s Law (P=IV), a standard extruder heater powered by 12V can easily draw over 50W on its own.
●Heated Bed: Many FDM printers are equipped with a heated bed to ensure proper bonding of the first layer and minimize warping. These systems are also often implemented with resistive heaters, such as PCB heaters or silicone heaters. Since a heated bed has a much larger surface area than an extruder, a heated bed typically requires more power to properly heat it to temperature.
3D printer heating bed with silicon heater
Motors and Mechanical Components
Besides heaters, the biggest consumers of electricity in a 3D printer are usually the mechanical parts:
● Stepper Motors: Stepper motors in the printer are used to control the movement of the extruder and build the platform. Stepper motors require specialized drive circuits to convert electrical energy into magnetic energy, which in turn is converted into kinetic energy for the motor. The power consumption of a stepper motor is largely dependent on the load it is moving and how fast it is moving it. Therefore, the power consumption of the printer motor will depend on the function of the motor and the mechanical structure of the machine.
●Fans: 3D printers use fans to transfer heat throughout the system, whether it is removing heat from recently extruded layers of material, circulating air in a heated chamber, or filtering particles through a HEPA filter, fans are important to these systems The first ring is generally powered by DC. The power supply voltage of the fan is often as high as 24V, and the power consumption can reach 1W or more. Since they run continuously during printing, they make a significant contribution to overall power consumption.
The current waveform of the stepper motor of the 3D printer.
Electronics and Controllers
Last but not least is the electronics inside the printer. Although most of the items discussed in this article are electronics, in this article “electronics” refers to the processing, display, and control of electronics within a system.
●Motherboard, Processor, and Microcontroller: The motherboard, processor, and microcontroller are used to manage all operations of the printer, including temperature control, motion, and user interface. Although they don’t draw as much power as heating elements or motors, they still contribute to overall energy use.
●Display and user interface: A touchscreen or LCD used for user interaction also consumes power. Among them, the backlight of the liquid crystal display is usually the largest power consumption. The display consumes very little power compared to the rest of this article.
Understanding the dynamics of power consumption within an FDM 3D printer can give users insight into how the machine uses power. Overall, heating elements, motors, mechanical components, and electronics and controls are key contributors to overall energy use. Extruder heaters and heated beds accounted for the largest share, followed by stepper motors and fans. While the power consumption of motherboards, processors, microcontrollers, and display interfaces is not as important as the aforementioned components, it is still an integral part of energy consumption. As technology advances, striking a balance between operating efficiency and power consumption will continue to be a key task for engineers and designers in the additive manufacturing industry.