3D Printing and the Value of Learning Something New

I am sure this story will resonate with many readers who purchased toys for their kids this year.  My story starts out with a RC race car that I bought my grandson for Christmas, which lasted all of one day until it was broken.  It was accidentally stepped on it and a wheel broke off.  Hoping to get more than a day’s use out of the car, I set out to look for a replacement part so that I could quickly fix it.  To my dismay however, there were simply no replacement parts to be found and thus started my foray into 3D printing.

Having heard so much about 3D printing in the last year, I saw this broken car as the perfect opportunity to jump into 3D printing myself, although I had no idea whether it was feasible or not.  Unlike my replacement part search, my search for 3D CAD (computer aided design) software and 3D online print vendors was successful to the point of sensory overload.  There is a dizzying array of choices and I finally had to look up some reviews to help guide me.

The first step was to find some good CAD software that I could use to design my replacement part.  I was looking for something simple to learn, fast to design with, and preferably free – don’t we all.  Very happily I ended up finding something that satisfied all three of my requirements in an online design tool called TinkerCad from Autodesk, the makers of AutoCad.  TinkerCad uses a simple, yet very powerful visual design paradigm based on merging together various geometric shapes that either add or remove material from a design.  Armed with my $15 micrometer, I was able to fully design my replacement part in about 15 minutes.  Wow!  I am sure there are other great CAD packages out there, but I am now officially a fan of TinkerCad.

TV-Thunder Part 2he next step was to pick an online 3D printing vendor, which is similar to choosing someone to print your photobook.  Sure I could have purchased my own 3D printer, but at 20 times the price of the toy car I was fixing, using a service seemed like the best approach.  I chose i.materialize because they were integrated directly with TinkerCad and they offered a huge selection of materials to print with, from plastic, to ceramic, to stainless steel.  I chose to print my design in a high strength plastic, but if the design proves successful and later I want to make it bullet proof, I’ll have many materials to choose from.

Now in a few more days my friendly UPS truck will show up with my custom designed part and my grandson will be back in business.  And I even open sourced my design and can now add “Open Source Contributor” to my resume.  If you happen to have a V-Thunder Pickup Electric RC Truck, feel free to use and enhance my design.  http://tinyurl.com/l3u3es3

Reflecting back on the whole experience reminded me of the importance of taking some time to dive in and learn something completely new.  Granted, learning to design and manufacture this new part was not that hard, but that is actually the beauty of the exercise.  It might have been very hard or very easy and had I not committed to learning the process, I’d never know.  And now I have a new skill that I can build upon and a great story to share as well.

So whether you want to try your hand at 3D printing or something else you’ve wondered about, make a New Year’s resolution to learn something new in the next 30 days!

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