Todd Blatt lives in Baltimore, about 15 minutes from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Todd tries to get to an Orioles game each year, he says, but he certainly couldn’t recite their roster from memory.
Even the most rabid Orioles fan probably doesn’t know Todd’s name. But earlier this year, Todd became an indispensable to the team and its fans, thanks to his CAD skills and knowledge of 3D printing.
It all began with an unexpected email asking if Todd, who has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and runs Custom 3D Stuff, could help the Orioles maintain some of their stadium seats.
Oriole Park can hold 45,971 baseball fans. About 9,000 of those seats — padded seats on the field level behind home plate and between the two dugouts; premium seats belonging to corporate and individual season-ticket holders — have a three-piece self-adjusting hinge that connects the part where you sit to the rest of the seat.
The company that manufactured the padded seats sold their product line to another seating company, and the new owner doesn’t make replacement brackets, which left the Orioles in a bind.
“You can’t tell your fan, ‘You can’t come use your season ticket today,’” Todd says. “So I went down to meet with them.”
At the meeting, Orioles staff gave Todd a broken hinge and asked if he could make them a new one. So Todd measured the sample with calipers and modeled it in AutoCAD. “There are interlocking pieces, so you have some things to factor in with spacing,” he says, but otherwise the design is “really straightforward.” Then he ordered a 3D print of his design in Shapeways White Strong & Flexible plastic.
Todd brought his first prototype to Camden Yards. “They were curious why it was curved,” says Todd, who assumed that the curve was part of the original design, not evidence of wear and tear. “Removing the extra curve made it easier,” says Todd, who modified his 3D design file, then optimized a bulk purchase through Shapeways, so the Orioles can order 25 hinges at a time.
“They don’t break every day,“ says Todd.
I unfortunately don’t get to sell them the entire 18,000 sets of parts that they use for the whole lot because these are just replacements for when the originals break, but it’s still a nice order and pretty neat to add them to my client list!
3D printing is not right for every project, Todd says, but “3D printing allows an individual maker to compete with large companies,” and it was the right solution for this one.
It’s been a tough season for Baltimore Orioles fans. Baltimore Sun sportswriters predicted that the O’s would make the playoffs, yet it’s looking like they won’t even break .500, and the Yankees will be hosting the wild-card game on October 3.
Come spring, however, season ticket holders will be back in Oriole Park, and their seats, if not their hopes, will be held together by Todd’s hinges.
“It’s exciting to be part of something that makes my city better,“ he says.