Solving a Problem with 3D Printing: Part 2

By | February 28, 2014

Last Friday, I posted about my experiment with Hudson Printing to solve a real-life problem using 3D printing.  The problem is that my mother’s beloved Elna sewing machine had a worn gear, rendering it useless. For years, my mother has bemoaned its loss. Now perhaps for the first time, there is a solution — thanks to 3D printing.

3D printing offers the promise of being able to print parts like you print a piece of direct mail. Just slower. . . on a different substrate . . . and in three dimensions. Is this a service printers can realistically offer? We decided to find out.

Last I posted, the next step was sending the part to Hudson Printing and awaiting questions from the designer. It turns out, that was not the next step. The next step was removing the gear from the sewing machine, which turned out to be a lot more difficult than expected. This was not an at-home job, so in order for the part to be created, the machine had to be taken to the sewing machine repair shop to be removed first.

Then the questions started coming.

  1. What if there is more wrong with the sewing machine than just the worn gear? What if, after going to the time and expense of having the gear professionally removed, even the most perfect recreation doesn’t solve the sewing machine’s ills?
  2. Will the substrate used to create the part be of sufficient strength to do its job? That may not be known until the part is removed, mailed, designed, printed, mailed back, and professionally reinstalled.
  3. Will the part be within the necessary tolerances to work together with all of the other machinery in the sewing machine? Again, to be determined.

These are the questions we are wrestling with right now.

The fact that discovery has stalled our little experiment reminds me of a comment made by Burke Jones, owner of The UPS Store in Kearny Mesa, CA, which does a high level of consumer business on its Stratysys uprint. The printer stays busy with both consumer and professional (engineer / prototype designer) work, but he called the front counter sales process “a black hole of time” because of all inquiries, unrealistic projects, and hand-holding that comes with 3D printing in a storefront model. It tells me that discovery may end up being as much a challenge, as not more of a challenge, for printers as 3D design.

Has anyone here recreated machine parts on a 3D printer, either as a supplier or a consumer? If so, was it successful? What were the issues, if any?

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3 thoughts on “Solving a Problem with 3D Printing: Part 2

  1. Robert Ohr

    We purchased a 3D printer about four years ago and since that time we have made numerous items but none so valuable as the gears for our film processor that are no longer stocked at the manufacturer. We also recently printed a part for our 5 color Halm Jet press. The part was $160 list price for the dealer but only cost us less than $5 to make. It might take a little work upfront to create a file but it is not impossible and once done it is ready for use over and over again.
    Robert Ohr

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    Interesting! I just checked out your website and don’t see 3D printing listed as one of your services. Are you doing customer work?

  3. Robert Ohr

    We would be happy to provide this service to our clients and we do discuss the possibilities with them, but the majority of distributors are having a hard time getting their minds around how to go to market. PSDA directs people to us for more information on 3D printing, but to date nothing has come of it.
    As far as advertising it on our web site…..I will save that discussion for another time. Maybe we will see you at the Distributor Solutions Show in Chicago the month of April?

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