3D design and printing blows my mind, and not for the sheer awesomeness of what people have done with 3D printing, from shoes to cars to organs to food. Oh no. What blows my mind is just how easy it is to go from a need or idea to an actual, finished thing. In some cases, just 20 minutes.
I needed a wheel. I didn’t want to spend too much time searching for one that fit the dimensions I had to work with, and I also didn’t want to spend too much time making it. I only needed about 2 dozen of the wheels for a small project I was working on, so it’s not like I needed to make a few thousand (and thus, justify spending a lot of time on this part): my time would be best spent getting this done quickly and then moving on.
First step for me is to go to Tinkercad and design the wheel. If you haven’t tried Tinkercad, especially for designing something quick and easy, you should. It is a very intuitive online CAD program that allows you to download the files you design for 3D printing.
After designing my wheel (only 7 different elements strategically put together) I downloaded it as an STL file and opened it up in Cura. Cura is a free, open-source software package that can take the STL file and turn it into G-code that a 3D printer can use to take your virtual design and print it out as a real-world thing. Opening up the STL file and it pretty much looks in Cura pretty much what it did in Tinkercad.
Right-click, and multiply the new wheel to get a bunch more.
Save the G-code to an SD card, insert it into your 3D printer, and go. A couple hours later, all warm and fresh out of the oven, you’ll have your wheels. Average time was about 11 minutes per wheel.
And that’s it. I’ve followed this process for so many items. There is an odd object I need? Design and print it. Something I only need a couple of, and the store charges way too much for them? Design and print it. I broke a part, and can’t find it anywhere? Design and print it. 3D printing has become such a convenience to me that my 3D printer is quickly becoming an essential tool, on the same level as a hammer, saw or screwdriver. So much saved time, effort, and convenience.