3D Printers Don't Fix Themselves:
How Maintenance is Part of Digital Fabrication

DIS ‘23 (forthcoming)

Digital fabrication practice such as 3D printing has increasingly moved into home and hobbyist environments. Beyond running machines, practitioners in these settings undertake maintenance and repair. However, acquiring the skills necessary for machine maintenance is a non-trivial process contingent on experience, equipment, and materials. In this paper, we seek to better understand how practitioners develop the skills necessary to maintain their 3D printers. We collect interview and survey data from active members of online 3D printing communities to conceptualize themes to characterize current maintenance practice. We find that practitioners develop maintenance routines that formalize their tacit understanding of fabrication processes, advance their expertise during required acts of repair, and rely heavily on hands-on testing to reconcile differences between physical prints and digital models. Given our findings, we argue that maintenance is a core part of digital fabrication practice. Finally, we discuss implications for design of future digital fabrication systems.