I was lying comfortably in my bed, when suddenly ‘Bzzzzz’. A mosquito! As any normal person would, I turned on the light, grabbed something to swat it with, and jumped on the bed to look where it was. I spotted it on the roll-up curtain. *Smack!* And in that one unlucky blow I not only killed the mosquito, but also the roll-up curtain from a trusted Swedish manufacturer. Upon close inspection I saw that 99% of the curtain was fine, except for the small plastic hook. The hook that it needs to stay on the wall…
About half an hour of internet research later I found that these are not sold as spare parts. This means that if you break a small part, you have to buy a whole new curtain. That is, about a year ago you had to buy a whole new curtain. Now however, with the help of 3D printing, you can create a new part yourself.
Glue won’t fix this…
The first part of fixing something is inspecting the original. I kept all of the broken parts and I glued them back together. The glue only has to hold it together during measurement. Since I decided to write this article after ‘fixing’ the part, I had to break the part a second time to take this photo. The advantage of having a 3D drawing of a component however, is that the part becomes digital. Copying and recreating it, is as simple as pressing a button. Information has become more important than the physical component itself. It’s about knowledge.
“The part becomes digital, copying and recreating it, is as simple as pressing a button”
The second step is to get a 3D model of the file. In my case I used a free development version of Rhino3D. The shape is quite simple, and in total it took me about 30 minutes to measure the broken part and make a rudimentary 3D drawing of it. Since I knew how the original part broke I made some small improvements. By adding some thickness and scaling down the part that broke I expect it to turn out stronger than its original. It will use more material but the cost implications of this are minimal. This is not true for mass production. When you produce at a large scale a 1% saving in cost can have a large impact on your ability to make money with your product. In my case it cost me only about 50 cents more.
My digital version of the bracket, ready to print.
Now the fun part: 3D printing. I do not have a 3D printer at home, which is where 3D Hubs comes in. 3D Hubs is a network of 3D printers that enables people that have a 3D printer at home to offer printing services to people nearby who want to 3D print. As of the time of writing of this article the number of signed up printers world-wide is at 8580. Every city that is ‘unlocked’ on 3D Hubs, has a critical mass of printers of all types available. When filtering to a 5KM radius from my home in Amsterdam, I got a list of 22 different printers ranging from Ultimakers to Makerbots to even a Form1+.
When you upload a file to a specific ‘Hub’, you have direct contact with the owner to discuss the details of the print. Since my file was fairly simple the Hub gave me green light to print immediately. And Boom! Not more than 24 hours after completing my CAD drawing I received an email that my print was ready. Being a good Amsterdam citizen I grabbed my bicycle and hopped over to Cre8 Urban Fabrication, just 5 minutes away.
Picking up the part felt a bit like using Über
Picking up the part felt a bit like using ‘Über’. I walked in and a man got up from behind his desk saying, ‘you must be here for the part!’. He walked over and had a perfect print in his hands. No payment needed, since this is already taken care off on-line before. I immediately saw the part would do the trick of fixing my curtain.
One footnote to this success story… 3D printing with a filament type 3D printer gives you parts that have specific material properties. In the case of the curtain bracket, I experienced some trouble with the mounting holes for the screws. Screwing them in a bit too tight cracked the 3D print. Luckily, as I said before, the part itself is not the valuable, but the digital information. As you read this article, I’ve already printed a new part with a bit of reinforcement. The future is bright, and it’s 3D printed! I’m glad that this little exercise gave me the ability to sleep at night. Not only because of the fact that I have curtains again, but also because instead of buying something new I minimised my waste footprint.
instead of buying something new I minimised my waste footprint.