Solving a Problem with 3D Printing: Part 1
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on February 21st, 2014
Earlier this week, my mother was expressing frustration — again — that she cannot use her much beloved Elna sewing machine. She’s tried others, but even the most expensive professional machines don’t cut it for her. She loves her Elna, and nothing else will do. The problem is that it has a small plastic gear that has worn out from so many years of use, and that part is no longer made. Without the part, the machine is useless.
For the first time in many years, I was able to suggest a solution. I contacted Paul Gardner, director of innovation at Hudson Printing (Salt Lake City), which purchased a 3D printer, the CubexDuo, last summer. The Duo is a two-color machine that offers a resolution of 125 microns and a build area of 10×10”.
The challenge was that the part was worn. I can understand the ability of a 3D part designer to recreate something exactly, but what if what happens when the part is worn down? How does the designer know how much to build it back up? How does he or she understand the tolerances and put back what is no longer there?
If printers are going to offer 3D printing services, offering consumer part design, including replacement parts, is one of the directions they can take. Some of the parts may come pre-designed, but many will not. Part of selling into this market will be the ability to problem-solve through design. So how does the process work?
Gardner’s staff has been experimenting with the Duo, printing out open source designs and gradually building up its own design expertise. Gardner thought the challenge sounded like fun and offered to design and build the part. I thought this was a great opportunity to follow the process and see what the process of building consumer parts really looks like and how it might fit into a commercial printer’s service mix.
The part will shipped off to await the second step — follow-up questions from the 3D part designer.