How thin can I make the wall of a pipe?

HDE 226868
  • How thin can I make the wall of a pipe? HDE 226868

    For a science project, I'm 3D-printing some custom pipes and tubes to regulate the flow of gas (a combination of ethyl alcohol and water vapor) through an apparatus. They need to be pretty small, as the entire experiment is designed on a small scale. I'd also like the use a little filament as possible.

    How thin can I make the walls of these pipes and tubes before either they collapse or gas leaks out? I know that's possibly an engineering issue, but I'd also need to take resolution into consideration. Ideally, the pipes would be about two centimeters in diameter, possibly a little larger or a little smaller in some parts. I'd most likely use ABS, but PLA is my backup in case there's some unforeseen reaction between the gas and the pipes.

    The printer I'm using is an FDM printer, a version of the MakerBot Replicator.

  • The thinnest wall your printer can print is determined by its nozzle size, and will be a little thicker than that nozzle size.

    A great challenge when dealing with thin, hollow cylinders is that the cross-section has very little surface area and it can delaminate easily, especially if the tube is long.

    You could try printing the tube with a very thick extrusion with, and using only a single perimeter. That would give better gas-tightness and layer adhesion than two, thinner perimeters, but it may turn out too fragile for your application. In that case, you'll need to print additional perimeters. Sticking to thicker extrusion widths would still be beneficial.

    At a two centimeter diameter I'd say the single perimeter has a decent chance of working if you handle them gingerly.

  • The thinnest possible will be a single outline, so the best you can possibly do is slightly larger than your nozzle size.

    The biggest issues I see in terms of making a thin airtight tubes are:

    • Complex geometry: anywhere you have overhangs you may need to increase the wall thickness to ensure a sealed overlap. Bridging will need extra layers to ensure good layer adhesion and any supports will have to be removed carefully to not damage the surface.
    • Perimeter start/end: The joint where the perimeter starts/ends not only has to seal to the layer below but it has to seal with the now cooling start point. This could be especially problematic if all of your layers are started at the same point (which visually produces a vertical seam) because you don't have a smooth perimeter on the previous layer and any imperfections in the joint are compounded.


    • Print on end where possible: You'll get a higher quality outer perimeter if your layers are full rings instead of printing up both sides of a pipe on its side.
    • If you can manage a single perimeter when printing on end try using the "spiral vase" setting, which will smoothly raise the z position and print as a spiral instead of printing discrete layers. This removes any issues related to sealing the start/end of a perimeter.
    • If you're printing with multiple perimeters increment the wall thickness in multiples of the nozzle size to ensure the perimeters are sealed together. Having the perimeters not bound together increases the chance of leaks and reduces stiffness.
    • Do the pipes have to have the same thickness all along them? You can probably reduce thickness to save material for simple geometry (straight sections) if you change thickness gently.

  • When printing thin cylinders vertically,

    • Slow print speed, to avoid rocking the model.
    • no shells, just one nozzle thick, so you don't need fill. Fill can easily rock the print.
    • Print at least 2 at a time at the smallest layer thickness you can do. This causes the hot end to have to move away from one cylinder to get to the next. This gives each cylinder layer some extra time too cool and harden before the next layer goes on. I generally print .1 or .05 for cylinders.
    • Your slicer may have a setting that tells it to wait between layers so the plastic has more time to cool. I think the setting is calledORBIT on mine.

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