How to Not Get Fired and Build Your Own Inductive Charging System with the Help of 3D Printing

by Ryan Dark

Inductive Charging, SOLIDWORKS & 3D Printing

While sitting in a quarterly operating and planning meeting next to Brad Hansen, who at the time was CEO of GoEngineer, I saw he had the newest iPhone. I asked if he had used its inductive charger (to charge the battery wirelessly). I had just learned how to retrofit inductive charging plugs on phones without inductive charging capabilities (like mine) and was pretty stoked on the idea because I always break my charging pins, so I was interested in how Brad liked the capability.

Brad had not used it yet and he did not have an inductive charging system. So, I told him we could get a whole bundle of ’em off eBay for like two bucks a pop and just throw one into a case and make it look cool with a GoEngineer logo.

I did not expect what happened next.

Brad opened his wallet, thumbed through a bunch of $20 bills and said, “Make it happen.”
When someone hands you the money up front you can’t back down on your offer, especially when that guy has the power to make or break your employment.

3D printing Inductive Charger

Figure 1: First SOLIDWORKS Model (scraped)

The Challenge Begins

My first attempt at modeling it was to make an exact representation of the PCB. This made it difficult to get the clearances right at first, so I had to scrap an entire model (an hour of work—see Figure 1) and rebuild the PCB in a more simple block-like fashion to ensure the clearances and make sure I had wiggle room inside the case (Figure 2). Then I put the PCB inside a UFO (just a little disk) and split it the same way you might injection-mold it, making it super easy to 3D print and snap together.

3D printing Inductive Charger

Figure 2: Model with Clearances

For color, I added a couple of split lines on the surface and colored them with the GoEngineer logo using the official colors. Then I 3D printed it on the Stratasys J750. Luckily, I measured everything correctly, and it printed out fine.

Hot Electronics

I designed a snug case, so the coil sat tight against the electronic (typical electronics cases have a ton of air space on the inside). Problem was that the heat of the inductive coil caused a bubble that deformed the case.

3D printing Inductive Charger

Figure 3: Purchased Components

3D printing Inductive Charger

Figure 3: Purchased Components

So, I superglued the inductive coil to a very thin section of the case (Figure 3). (Note: I had to keep that section of the case super thin so there wouldn’t be too much power lost transmitting just the case itself.) But once I glued the coil to the spot that was bubbling up, it stopped bubbling up, and I thought, “I think this is good enough to give to a person who could fire me.”

I left the inductive charger on Brad’s desk and called it a day.

3D printing Inductive Charger

Figure 4: The Final Product

The Rubber Meets the Road

Later, I found out he took it home and showed his daughters, who posted it on Snapchat—they loved it. It has become a staple in their household and I got a raise [just kidding].
Something that started off with an offhand remark became a product that serves a useful purpose that people enjoy using.

I am lucky, though. I have all the tools at my disposal at GoEngineer: SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, Stratasys 3D printers, and other tools. It only took me about four hours to make the entire thing, start to finish, even with mistakes and do-overs along the way. Also, I made it as thin and flat as possible for faster 3D printing—I figured that would impress the boss, too.

Pretty satisfying when you can build something in the morning and have it in your hands by the end of the afternoon, you know? Bonus: I still have my job.

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