There are few things in this life that give more more personal satisfaction than admitting I was wrong. On one hand, being able to admit I was wrong implies my brain still has a certain amount of mental flexibility and open-mindedness. Frankly, that’s pretty darn rare these days.
How often do you hear people doing a complete about-face when it comes to strongly held personal beliefs? (Almost never?)
And even more importantly, there’s no better way to keep an ego in check than to put your mistakes out there for the world to see. It’s pretty darn humbling, and good for me.
So, it’s with great pleasure I’d like to admit, I was wrong about 3d printing.
Rewind To 3 Years Ago…
Nearly three years ago I wrote a post “Should I Invest In A 3d Printer?” I was looking for a tool to re-create some of our kitchen drawer brackets. The plastic parts had broken due to years of wear (and full drawers).
Unfortunately I couldn’t find replacement brackets anywhere.
This is a very common problem in modern households. You buy a product, and eventually it breaks. Usually it’s just a small piece of plastic that breaks, and the rest of the product is still (mostly) functional.
Can it be fixed? Often times it’s no longer possible to buy a replacement part — because the manufacturer has moved on to newer models, or simply gone out of business.
Even if a replacement part is available, they’ll often charge *excessive prices* for even the tiniest plastic part. It doesn’t make good economic sense to repair it, so most people throw out the broken product and buy a new one.
When I wrote the post 3 years ago, I concluded that 3d-printing just had too many hidden costs (and a few extreme risks — like burning your house down) that made it a poor solution to my drawer-bracket problem.
Specifically, I’m talking about a kind of 3d-printing called FDM printing, or Fused Deposition Modeling. Basically the kind of 3d printer that squirts out layer after lay of hot plastic to build the model you’ve designed in the computer.
Super hot plastic and cheap Chinese electronics seemed like a recipe for house fires. Failed prints were also pretty common in those days, due to the finicky nature of 3d printing.
I eventually gave up on 3d printing as a solution to my problem, but never lost an interest in the technology. To solve my kitchen bracket problem, I re-created the brackets using wood. It wasn’t easy to make those small parts out of wood, but I managed it.
A Surprise Gift
Now, fast forward to Christmas 2020 when Mrs. Tako decided to gift me a 3d-printer for Christmas. I guess she noticed I was interested in the technology, but loath to spend the money myself.
Now I had a shiny new Creality CR-10 V3 to experiment with, so there were no more excuses!
Here’s the setup of our new 3d printer in the office:
Fortunately 3d printers have improved quite a bit over the last 3 years. Some of the issues I wrote about in my initial post are far less likely to occur today.
Fires, while still a possibility, are far less likely to occur. Firmware features like thermal runaway protection are now enabled by default on most good quality 3d printers… which should keep them from burning your house down.
Electronics can still fail in unexpected ways, but the safety of the machines have certainly improved since those earlier models.
To mitigate these risks, I still keep a working smoke detector right over the top of our printer, and a fire extinguisher in the same room. And, I never start a print if I’m not going to be home.
Other issues, like failed prints have been somewhat mitigated by new features like “auto bed leveling”. This feature makes getting a good print so much easier than it used to be.
Even a complete doofus like me can now get good prints most of the time!
A Multitude Of Uses
So what can you do with a 3d-printer? If you look on the internet, most people seem to use them as a way to make “desktop toys”… aka dust collectors. Plastic figurines that just sit on a shelf and do nothing. That’s great if printing D&D miniatures is your hobby, but I like to use our 3d printer to create functional parts whenever possible.
To give you an example, my very first print was a plastic handle for a broken garage broom. Rather than buying a totally new broom, I simply 3d-printed a replacement handle. It only cost a few pennies worth of plastic.
Home repair projects like this are extremely cheap and easy to do. It was my first repair project with the 3d printer, and I was pretty proud of the result.
When my plastic Ikea dust pan broke a few months later, I simply printed a new handle. Sure, a replacement Ikea dust pan only costs $2, but I’d easily spend that much money driving to an Ikea store (the nearest Ikea is 30 miles away).
Then there was the time our rain gutter broke. Absolutely NO hardware store in the area carried the kind of part I needed for the repair. Most hardware stores simply recommended I buy a new section of gutter drain pipe (roughly 6 feet long), which would have cost a whole lot more than simply printing an adapter piece:
Of course 3d printing isn’t just about repairing broken parts. Sometimes your wife wants a new phone case for her Pixel 3A, and it’s your duty to provide. Been there done that! (And she absolutely loves the phone case)
Kids toys in particular are often cheaply made, out of plastic. They have an annoying tendency to break. One of my son’s toy boxes needed a new hinge, and this was easily fixed with our 3d printer.
3D printers are also great at fixing those household annoyances that absolutely nobody else in the universe has. For example, we have a curtain rod that uses friction to stay in place. It constantly falls down when the kids pull on the curtain. Super annoying, and nobody else in the universe is going to have this same problem.
3D printing to the rescue! My solution was a simple printed bracket, and it hasn’t fallen down since!
And this is just a small sampling of the many many things I’ve fixed, repaired, or improved around our house. Now that we have a 3d printer we use it constantly.
Honestly, I’m surprised by how often we use it! 3d printers are not just toys for technology fanatics anymore. They are now a useful household tool AND they can actually save you money!
Don’t take my word for it however, there’s literally a whole subreddit devoted to showcasing functional 3d-prints.
Sure, there are probably multiple ways to fix many of the house problems I’ve shown here, but I highly doubt they’d be as affordable as my 3d printed solutions. A whole kilogram of 3d printing filament is now a mere $19 on Amazon.
It’s amazingly cheap!
Everyone Needs A 3D Printer!
Now, I won’t claim I’m some kind of expert on 3D printing (far from it), but I know when to admit I’m wrong. I was wrong about 3d printing. The number of uses I’ve found for our 3d printer over the last 8 months has been just staggering. This really is the future, and it’s available today!
The technology just needed a little time to mature (and I needed to take the time to learn how to use it).
Like other tools you might purchase, the initial cost is probably the biggest hurdle for most households. They’re rather expensive, especially good printers like the various Prusa models.
A decent 3D printer starts at $279 USD right now (the Ender 3 V2), and just goes up from there as you add features and quality.
I’m not going to pretend 3d printers are cheap, but I now consider a 3d-printer to be a household tool that everyone needs to have (like a hammer, screw driver set, electric drill, etc.)
I’m not kidding! They’re really that useful to have around!
Like most new tools and technology, there’s always a learning curve involved. Especially if you’ve never used a 3d printer before. You’ll need to learn the basics of 3d modeling, and how to slice 3d models into the gcode your printer understands.
It’s not hard, but it does take a little learning.
Thankfully, there’s tons of free resources around. Many libraries now offer free courses on 3d printing, and there’s plenty of simple (and FREE) 3d design tools (like TinkerCAD) that are easy to pick-up for novices.
Likewise, tutorials on 3d printing can be found all over the internet. YouTube videos in particular were invaluable for helping me learn the basics of 3d printing.
So don’t let that learning curve of a new technology turn you away! It’s really not that bad, and you’ll be amazed at how useful a 3d printer can be!
[Image Credit: Flickr]