Mr. & Ms. Fixit in 2010 but when will manufacturers catch up?
Prior to the industrial revolution it was customary that you would care for your possessions, repairing them so that they may last a lifetime and in some instances be handed down for generations. With the post WW2 economic globalization and the outsourcing of manufacture to third world countries it often became cheaper to replace a product then repair it, leading to a culture of disposable products, planned obsolescence and waste. Some products such as headphones there are no replacement parts are available forcing the consumer to either fix it themselves with gaff tape and super glue or buy a new pair.
Engineering student Sam Roesch had an interest in pulling apart consumer products and found himself with a few pairs of broken Sony headphones that all shared a common problem of the headphone bracket breaking. He 3D modeled up the part in CAD and ran a quick FEA (finite element analysis) "for fun", which confirmed the weak point in the design so Sam thickened up that area and 3D printed the bracket to repair his headphones. Within a couple of weeks of Sam posting his process on his blog he had a number of requests for the printed of parts and was generous enough to share the 3D file for download on Thingiverse where it can be 3D printed on a Makerbot or uploaded to a site like Shapeways to be 3D printed.
This is something we can expect to see more and more of as people use 3D printing to solve their own repair issues, but also share their files to help others. The main difference between this and previous eras of DIY is that people with differing levels of skill can achieve the same results because once the digital file exists somewhere like the Shapeways 3D Parts Database, the hard work in 3D modeling is done and can be 3D printed by someone with no modeling experience. Of course people can also choose to make a little cash to cover their time 3D modeling and offer the parts for sale like bvicarious, Mcad and TrisQ who all have various knobs available to be 3D printed in their respective Shapeways shops.
As we see currently individuals offering this 3D printed repair service, how long is it before we see manufacturers like Sony or Nokia offering CAD files for consumers to 3D print their replacement parts? Sure it means that part could be easily copied but if it was something as simple as the bracket for the headphones their IP in the actual sound reproduction would not be compromised. They may sell a few less 'replacement headphones' but this could instead instill brand loyalty knowing that your headphones may last that little bit longer. Then what about taking it further and opening the option of modifying the CAD file to customize the product components such as OpenMoko attempted with their Neo FreeRunner
smart phone when they released the all of the 3D files for their phone.
Aside from DIY and Mass Producers there are also small scale, bespoke manufacturers using 3D printing to replace and improve existing parts, where the cost of tooling or hand making a component would be restrictive. When fabricating a high end piece of furniture it is the smallest of details that can either make the design perfect or bring down the whole piece. With my experience designing solid timber furniture it is always the quest to find the best possible hardware mechanisms that takes the most amount of time and can let down the design. When all that is available is cheap plastic components that are prone to breakages it is time to 3D print replacement parts in stainless steel..
It is a small component but the push latch is visible, tactile and audible every time the client opens the door to a piece of furniture that retails for about the same price as a small car. It is critically important that the part does not fail, working perfectly every time, that the design is consistent with the overall style in proportions, angles and feel, and that more can be ordered at short notice. Again this is something we will see more and more as designers become aware of how quickly and easily 3D printed parts can be integrated into an actual product design process and not just prototyping.
So what needs replacing/repairing around your house or workplace that could be 3D printed? Where could a 3D printed part be integrated into a product design or re-purpose an existing product using 3D printing like Metamorphose? Who do you think should offer CAD files to replacement parts?