3D Printers: A Tool That’s Tough to Live Without

Article by Tate Brown on Aug 07, 2019

In my first month working with GoEngineer I have been surprised that so many of our prospective customers already love 3D printing and have great interest in 3D Printers.

They’ve seen 3D printed metal parts, concrete houses, working hearts, and more. This exposure tends to create a disconnect at some point, though, where people stop thinking of a 3D printer as a specialty tool and more as a novelty item—a tool that can do cool things but wouldn’t really work for them.

I’m a weekend tinkerer. As any fellow tinkerer will know, tools make the tinkerer.

I started out with a Craftsman tool chest handed down by my father. I learned early on having the right tool for the job invariably makes a difficult job easier. It took some busted knuckles and wrenching on what my friends and I call “hour bolts” (fasteners in impossibly tight areas that can only be backed out by turning the wrench 1/16 of a rotation at a time) before I fully appreciated this notion.

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A Simple Philosophy for Buying Tools

Since then, I’ve expanded to two much-larger tool chests filled with various specialty tools, each of these tools making me more capable and efficient than the last.

I built my collection of capable tools one job at a time, based on a simple philosophy: 1) Pay someone with the right tool to do the job, or 2) Buy the tool to do it myself.

If paying someone was more expensive than the tool, you guessed it: I bought the tool. By following this philosophy I gradually filled a couple tool boxes.  I saved time and money, plus gained an immense amount of mechanical confidence. This philosophy has also served me well in my professional career.

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Finding a Better Way With 3D Printers

As mentioned earlier, many of our potential customers tend to limit 3D printing to a novelty item.  The irony is I can usually think of more applications than I can keep track of with all my fingers (luckily I’ve still got all 10) as I tour their facilities. These applications would improve upon an existing process saving them time and money.

Sometimes the “hour bolt” in your development process can become company culture and/or business as usual.  Attempting to remove the same bolt for an hour should be painful, not normal.  This pain becomes a vital part of our motive to improve our process.

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3D Printing Past Old Limitations

When visiting potential customers we often find they have already dipped their toes in the 3D printing world. Of those companies there is an interesting trend. Without exception, each of them has a hobby-level 3D printer gathering dust somewhere.

As these companies familiarize themselves with the technology they start to see an expansion of their perceived limits. They have used their hobby-level printers to the point they no longer work reliably, or at all. In other words, they wear out their printers!

These customers then see life without a 3D printer as a life spinning “hour-bolts.” Rather than give up their improved workflows and capabilities they seek to invest more heavily in bigger, more reliable 3D printers.

3D Printers Expand Innovation

Just like adding specialty tools to my toolbox has saved time, money, and expanded my abilities in my home shop, businesses are realizing 3D printers can help them in similar ways. Obviously, a high-end 3D printer is a significantly larger investment compared with any tool in my toolbox. However, the cost is not outlandish when compared to the machines and tools used by many manufacturers.

The “why” for your business will undoubtedly be unique, but if you’re innovating on any level there is likely a fit for 3D printing as a tool in your toolbox. A 3D printer just may become a tool you won’t want to live without.

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About Tate Brown

Tate Brown is a Manufacturing Applications Engineer at GoEngineer. He has worked with Novatek and Schlumberger in a partnership working with their intellectual property team developing and prototyping improved down-hole systems as well as other industry leading technologies. Just prior to joining GoEngineer, Tate worked with Rooftop Anchor helping in the design and testing of suspended access systems used by window washers and service crews on skyscrapers.

View all posts by Tate Brown