Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Practical Side of 3D Printing

My son has a t–shirt that states:  “Got a problem? Call an engineer.” Poor grammar aside, the t-shirt has a point. With a little bit of math and a 3D printer, you can solve some household problems.

I bought my son a stovetop popcorn popper for Christmas. We’ve since become popcorn aficionados. Our holy grail is kettle corn. The recipe is easy: 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and 1/3 cup white sugar popped together. My husband did the math to determine the volume required for 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup and designed a 3D–printed kettle corn measuring cup.


Just about every friend and relative has asked for a copy, which he easily printed out with his Solidoodle 3D printer.


I have two naughty dachshunds who must be confined when we leave for longer than an hour. Oh, the destruction! We’d been using a baby gate, which was deteriorating, to confine the “kids.” Since this issue is ongoing, my husband built a gate and 3D–printed custom latches to hold the gate open and closed.




This past Spring, someone tried to steal our beat–up car from a parking lot. The thief used a screwdriver to pop the locks into the door panels, which can lower the power windows if done correctly. In our case, the thief didn’t get what he came for, but we had holes where our car locks once were. Since we can still use our key fob, we used the 3D printer to make hole covers for the doors.


One leaky permanent marker later, the plugs are virtually unnoticeable.


The key to designing your own 3D objects is to use a digital caliper to make accurate measurements. We use the free version of SketchUp to build models. It sounds more intimidating than it is. You can get a digital caliper for about $20 from Harbor Freight.

YouTube is full of video tutorials for SketchUp.

Is it possible to build 3D models when you aren’t comfortable with math? My daughter (art student) bought herself digital calipers, learned enough SketchUp to be dangerous, and 3D printed a broken internal part for her Nerf® gun. The part worked, and her foam darts flew again.

My husband designed a multipart phone stand for his Nokia 920, which all his geek friends love. He’s printed out many phone stands to give away in his technical talks.


I am working on an idea for bud vases. I am going to rely on my husband’s experience with SketchUp, but I’m going to give the designing a try.

What household solutions could you 3D print?



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