Though the origins of this poem apparently date back to the 13th century, Benjamin Franklin famously quoted it in the preface to Poor Richards Almanack. He added the line "A little neglect may breed mischief..." It's an adage that frequently proves true for us. Never mind the fact that entropy seems to work a little harder here... Machines that are broken often stay that way and projects get stalled all because a single, simple, part is missing. Amazon Prime hasn't quite made it to our doorstep... and often replacement parts aren't even available or the problem we're facing is such a unique scenario that no affordable commercial solution exists.
Enter the world of additive manufacturing.
While it may seem like something out of the future the idea of printing something in 3 dimensions is surprisingly old, dating back to a short story from 1945! It wasn't until 1987 that the first commercially available printer was manufactured, but the cost ($350k at the time) kept it well outside the range of consumer use. It wasn't until the 2010's that printers using a plastic filament (Fused Deposition Modeling) started to be produced at more consumer-friendly prices. Today you can pick one up for under $200, though quality at that price point will definitely suffer.
As a graduation present for finishing my surgical residency my in-laws bought me this printer:
It travelled a long way before finding its resting place here in Burundi. So how have I been putting it to use? Well for starters there are some convenience items like this spice rack:
And some fun items like this catapult we printed for technology club:
And then there are the practical things, like the antenna brackets we use to optimize Wi-Fi signals over long distances:
These brackets have been in use for over a year and other than the steadily accumulating dirt and spider webs they're still working great.
While I wish I could say I designed all these things I've only just started dipping my toes into the world of 3d modeling. Most of the above designs I found on Thingiverse, a collection of freely available 3d models. More recently though I've had a couple projects where I couldn't find anything that suited my needs:
This little reflector wound up in a custom desk lamp I made.
After setting up the new hospital network, I've transitioned into working on a server which will eventually allow us to access digital x-ray images anywhere in the hospital. It will also likely service our electronic health record whenever we decide to cross that bridge. In this process I realized I was missing a bracket for mounting a couple hard drives in the system.
After a little design work and ~7hours of printing:
It's pretty satisfying seeing something go from design to functional product over the course of a couple days!
While it's not quite as simple as pressing CTL+P to print it's proven super useful at solving some of the unique problems and challenges we face. I'm already eying my next printer to speed up print times and expand the materials I can use to print. Now to figure out how to get it here...