Business-driving Tool to an Engineering Toy

Published 02/16/2015

By Gemma Downey | 3D Printing Consultant

When speaking with companies who are considering bringing 3D printing technology in-house for a few specific projects, I always say: “You will buy a 3D printer for projects A, B and C, but you end up using it for the whole alphabet.” Maybe it’s hard to see since you may not have easy access to Stratasys 3D printers like I do, but, time and time again our customers tell us, “WOW, not only have our prototypes come a long way, but having in-house prototyping capabilities opened our eyes to further innovative projects such as custom jigs, fixtures, tooling, and even Christmas ornaments!”

Stratasys Objet 30 Prime… Christmas ornaments? Which of these is not like the others?

There are hundreds of articles telling of the under-utilized applications for 3D printing: jigs, fixtures, tooling, dyes, injection molding cores and cavities, blow molding… and these are all amazing applications that drastically cut time and cost to market and improve product design, but I’m here to talk about the fun stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, a 3D printer is an investment—it is a tool that drives business. But, I am willing to put money on the fact that most of our users will deviate from that “tool” and once in a while, use it to bring a fun or personal design to life. My dad always called his tractor and snow blower his “toys,” and in that same regard, I could see an engineer thinking of his 3D printer as his or her “toy.”

Some of what I will write about is just for fun, and some is more functional. This article shows how 3D printing puts the “fun” in “functional.”

Thumbs Up, Dad!

Every year, I nail Christmas. This year, my most comical gift was to my dad. A year ago, he lost part of his thumb to a table saw. It’s an unfortunate situation, but we had to make light of it somehow. For Christmas, I printed him a “Thumbs Up, Dad!” award that he could put on his desk. He rolled his eyes, but I got a chuckle out of him too. I wish I could say I bio-printed a functional thumb—maybe that will be a gift I can give for Christmas in years to come.

Dogs are a Girls’ Best Friend

I spoke with a co-worker of mine whose favorite 3D printing project was turning a photo of herself and her dog into a 3D print called a lithophane. There are programs, such as Photoshop, that will turn your 2D photo into “lights” and “darks” and pull out the darks 3-dimensionally and leave the lights shallow. This produces a file called an STL that can be used for 3D printing. Once the photo is 3D printed and when you hold it up to a bright background, you have a beautiful 3D printed “photograph.” For more information, you should read our blog titled 'The 3D Printed Lithophane' (READ HERE)

3d printed Lithophane

Functional Meets Fun

Here is where fun meets functional. Another coworker of mine printed the world’s first 3D printed windsurfing fin that he knows of that was 3D printed and used in a real-world environment. Windsurfing fins are used to create forward motion from a perpendicular force (the wind). Without a fin, you’d be pushed straight downwind. He printed it in our strongest FDM material, Ultem-9085, and post-processed the part to create a water-tight and smooth surface finish.  It held up to aggressive sailing for 30 minutes without breaking, which is quite amazing considering traditional fins are created with a material that is much harder and stronger than the plastic that we use. If you are interested in this project, watch this video to see the fin in action.

3D Printed Windsurfing Fin

For the Ladies

Does anyone remember the “Bumpit™?” My friends and I wanted them all throughout high school to give our hair that extra volume. I never got around to ordering one from As Seen On TV, but someone designed their own custom version in CAD allowing anyone with access to a 3D printer to create their own at home or the office. I could print three of these in an hour and a half for $4.82. Why pay $19.99 plus shipping and wait for my hair pieces to be delivered when I could have them printing while I’m in a meeting? (Side note: I printed a comb, too!)

Car Repair

One of our engineers had the misfortune of someone hitting the side-view mirror of his car. The mirror or casing itself wasn’t broken but the part that connected the mirror to the car was busted. I searched online for the price of a replacement mirror body and the average cost ran about $34—not bad, but our engineers elected to design and print a connector that held the two parts together. The part costed pennies to produce. His first design didn’t fit properly so he simply redesigned and reprinted the part in our ABS material. The part is still holding up today.

Fixing your car with 3D printing

But Wait, There's More!

Some of our other 3D-printed projects include a missing part of my heeled-boot sole, a small “grill” of my car that I lost, an iPhone case (with moving gears!), a tiara, a business card holder, multiple animals, bottle openers, wine racks, steam engines, jewelry and of course, Christmas ornaments. As you can see, the products we create in the office are mostly functional, with a twist of fun added!


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