When the NJIT Makerspace opened, the first training I attended was to gain access to the 3D printers. There are twelve of them labeled "standard access" and a few more that are reserved for Makerspace staff only. I have designed a few parts that could be printed but generally, the print times would have been longer than I wanted to wait for my first print.
Last week I was cleaning up my desk at work. My work computer is a laptop which is great for portability. In the office, however, I have 3 monitors and various external devices to connect to make it more comfortable. Our desks come with pretty standard plastic grommets and cable passthrough caps. My main problem is that when I unplug my laptop there are 5 cables to disconnect (power, 2 mini display port, USB and a headphone extension). As I am unplugging these cables, I have to make sure that none of them fall through the oversized cable hole. While this certainly isn't a big issue, I saw it as an opportunity to solve a real word problem using some 3D modeling and additive manufacturing.
My original plans called for making an entire replacement cap but my early models showed that to be a pretty big waste of space. Since the root problem was that the cables were too small for the existing hole, rather than that I didn't have enough room, I decided to make an insert instead. Transferring the measurements from the existing cap into Fusion 360 was a pretty simple process, though not terribly accurate because of the ruler I was using. From there I modeled a part that would fill the hole, with some overlap and designed the 5 holes as smaller versions of the original passthrough hole.
Taking my design over to the Makerspace, Justin was nice enough to walk me through the remarkably easy process of setting my print up and transferring it to the Ultimaker3. I have no real comparison to other 3D printers, but using Cura to do the model slicing and export it to a flash drive made it very simple to transfer the model over to the Ultimaker for printing. With the file loaded and some hairspray on the print bed to assist part adhesion all that was left was to wait. The printer took care of warming up the print bed, making sure the bed was level and went right into printing. 17 minutes later I had my part.
Maybe it would have been a better story if my first print had turned out perfectly, but it ended up not working. The part wasn't thick enough to fit around the inner thickness of the grommet cap. I also had some issues with the size of cable holes. So while it would have been nice to get it in one shot, this experience really highlights the power of 3D printing for rapid prototyping. Fusion 460 keeps an entire timeline of changes you make to a model, so going back in time to modify an existing part is easy. I wasn't able to get back to print the next day, but another short visit the day after that yielded an insert that works.
It was a great learning experience, and although it's only a small part it's something that I designed. There are some small tricks to getting a nice print that I have learned, and more that I have to learn still, but as far as first (and second) attempts, I think it was fairly successful. It may even lead me to do some more cable management 3D prints in the future.