There is no denying the explosion in popularity of 3D printers within the last few years. No longer are they multiple hundreds of dollars from Stratasys, you can pick up a Creality Ender 3 from China for $300. But the consumer-grade machines have also progressed so far in terms of reliability. I remember the first 3D printer I used, a Makerbot Replicator, at work, all the way back in 2013. All I remember of that machine was the failures. It is a complete night and day experience compared to my Prusa i3MK3S, which I can’t remember the last failed print I had.
But what does all of this mean for society? Now people can print small little trinkets much easier? Yes, there is no denying that. However, the real power that all of this brings is the potential for designing and printing replacement parts at home.
Some of the most useful things I have printed on my Prusa i3MK3S have been replacement parts, or customised pieces to do what I need. I have printed replacement parts for my headphones. I have printed risers for my coffee table so that my robotic vacuum can fit under it. I have been able to easily design functional parts that have improved my life and allowed me to fix broken products, even when the original manufacturer doesn’t provide replacement parts.
3D Printers are amazing tools for any tinkerer or maker who would be inclined to fix something than replacing something. The software that is available for designing parts, such as TinkerCad or Fusion 360 is often daunting, but are extremely powerful once you overcome the barrier to entry.
Often people try to make perfect replacements within the CAD design software, but the ability to rapidly prototype your parts makes the design process easier. Yes, the printers are instant. However, compared to getting something shipped to you is often 100 times longer than doing a print.