We all know, or we should know if we have been messing around with 3D filament printers for a long time, that the materials we use over time degrade or simply lose quality.
Taking into account the “expiration date” goes unnoticed many times and we always attribute our printing problems or “artifacts” in the pieces to possible misconfigurations of our favorite filleting machine or to mechanical failures of our machines unfairly.
And certainly there are many possibilities that it is the filaments themselves that due to humidity or storage time, are the ones that really cause this series of problems.
In some cases, draining countless hours of work on our part to try to solve or alleviate them (and many times without success).
This is a real problem in which nobody is proposing any solution. And I think that an important improvement for the community of users and professionals would be to be able to coin that term “expiration date”, so used in the food industry, for the consumables that we use daily in our machines.
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Expiration date in filaments
This is not an idea that has been going through my head personally. The expiration date idea was recently shared with me by my dear friend Toni (from Novaprint company). And the first thing I thought is how something so vital to a printer user hadn’t crossed my mind in all this time.
Nor have I conducted a market study to see which manufacturers include this type of information in the filaments they sell, although I presume that if there is one, they will be relatively few. This opinion piece is rather the result of my frustration when seeing the errors and differences between different brands of filaments when printing.
It is obvious that we work with consumables that gradually degrade, and in light of this fact no manufacturer (that I am aware of) exposes this information to us on the packaging of our filaments. And despite that we spend hundreds of kilograms of filament and thousands of euros, on a product that in the worst case becomes a lottery.
I will not go into the percentage of degradation, or times, or how much it affects each of the materials, since it is not my intention to carry out a study on a problem that has an easy solution.
Rather, it is to expose a pressing need to all 3D printer users who, like me, spend and invest a lot of money in consumables with a very serious lack of information.
And also, it is likely that like me, you are always attentive to the date of acquisition of a filament. Although this does not make much sense, since no one can assure you that that filament has not been stored for 3 years in a warehouse waiting for the best buyer of the lot.
Production date or expiration date?
Both data would be of real use, since I suspect that different materials will lose properties in different ways over time. At the very least, it would be essential in my opinion to have a real production date for the same filament. Already having that date a user will be able to assess how long it can have a useful life.
Ignoring these data, any estimates of the results of a print are mere guesswork. To what extent is the mechanics that is affecting our impressions or the actual state of the filament?
Why don’t manufacturers include the production date?
That is a good question, and honestly it is something that I do not know or about which I do not have enough information.
Perhaps the shots can be due to the issue of cost reduction when producing the filaments, or simply because they are imported directly from factories abroad (some will have China in their head), of which there is no control at all.
Obviously it is not the same to start a production of a filament of a specific material and color for a few units or for a few tons. I understand that having to prepare the machines, change the dyes, load the raw material and the rest of the operations that are linked together carry a reasonable cost for the manufacturer.
But this is not a cost that buyers must bear when acquiring a filament for which we pay a price and it generates a profit. In fact, I am convinced that many 3D printer users – including myself – would not mind paying a little more for a roll of filament that has been labeled with its production date.
It is useless for a filament to be completely hermetic, and carefully packaged if, when it reaches its destination, 9 months have passed since its production, its life cycle for optimum quality is already very limited.
A possible solution not without its problems
I sincerely believe that we should require manufacturers to step forward and correctly label the filament rolls according to the production date. Apart from being a qualitative leap and that would differentiate them from other possible brands, it would give us an acceptable quality guarantee.
Think about it, we buy perishable products without having any expiration date. In what other area have you seen something like this? It doesn’t make any sense wherever you look at it.
However, this brings other problems. How can we know if this validation is real? Or that the dates have not been falsified to indicate less date than the real one or labeling again. The truth is that it would be relatively easy to try to fool a user, although sooner or later we would see a poor quality with a false date and it would arouse our suspicions.
At least we would have data to check our filaments, and I want to think that quite a few filament producers would respect this labeling in a professional way. You could even make a tracking code via the web or store it in a decentralized and immutable database, such as an Ethereum or Cardano type blockchain.
And this is it, I hope and wish that this opinion article has been to your liking. And if by some remote chance it manages to make some filament manufacturer reflect, it will have served its purpose.
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