Introduction: 3D Printing: Fab or Fad? a Story About Mounting Brackets

About: To learn is to live!

Until recently I had felt that 3D printing was over-rated. My experiences in 3D printing revolved around using temperamental printers that were a pain to set up, took forever to print and produced less than satisfactory results.

Well as you will see from some of other Instructables, all of this has changed.

I use the following simple project to prove my point.

Step 1: The Problem

While reviewing some work done my team, I came across a computer that the installers had mounted to the wall behind and AV display. While not visible from the room, the solution was less than satisfactory. A tek screw had been used to support the main weight of the box by screwing it through the security loop, into a mounting block that held the TV mount. Double-sided take had also been used to help keep the device horizontal but this had come loose.

Now these computers do not have brackets that allow them to be mounted as required. In the past I would have had to request our workshop fabricate something for us. However as I am working at a University, and being a new member of their maker space (Unleash Space) i.e. working in the space for the last year, I immediately saw that this was a perfect opportunity to apply my relatively new 3D printing skills.

Step 2: Today's Printers

My initial exposure to printers had been from about 10 years ago. Back then they were indeed temperamental, needing to be calibrated and taking and age to print. Now while 3D printers are still slow, they are a lot quicker than I remember i.e. the projects that I am printing today take as long to print as the ones that I tried print back in the day but they are also much larger and with size comes the ability to make things that are useful in everyday life.

This is not a technical review but simply a lay-person's experience and opinion about 3D printing.

While cheap 3D printers might be a great way to start, when it comes to realising an idea, I do not wanting battle with tweaking and using a printer. Rather I would like the tool to be fool-proof, printing to a reasonable level of accuracy and detail without a high failure rate i.e. I want to focus on the project and not the tools. In the Unleash Space we use the Makerbot Replicator+. While a great machine it is a lot more than I am willing to spend. After some research my recommendation for a home 3D printer would be the Prusa i3. It is less than half the price of a Replicator+, has all the features that I am looking for and continues to receive great reviews. And the cherry on top is that it is OpenSource (I am an OpenSource fan).

Step 3: Back to the Problem at Hand

All that would be needed to hold the computer would be two corner brackets. The back one would need to have a hole in the back for the network cable and the one in the front would need holes so that the air holes were not blocked on the front of the computer.

Using vernier callipers I determined the required dimensions and hole sizes and positions, and then using FreeCAD designed the above brackets, exporting then to STL files for 3D printing.

Step 4: The Wonderful World of OpenSource

I started my IT days, pre-teens, on a ZX81, moved to a Sinclair QL, then a 286 followed by a 386. Years later when starting my first job and saved an insane amount of money and purchased a 486DX. Besides having to rely on manuals and help files (F1) to learn how to use software, all useful software back then (that was easy enough to use) was commercial.

Today things have changed; computers are comparatively cheap and free, OpenSource software (much of which I consider to be of commercial quality) abounds. Further YouTube videos and user community forums allow you to learn and master basically any maker skill.

Today, besides Microsoft Office (which I still love), when I choose software I always look for something that is truly cross platform i.e. will run on my Fedora machine at home, my work Windows laptop or my wife's MAC. To this end the following are my right-hand tools that I use when creating my projects or publishing to Instructables:

  • LibreCAD - 2D CAD used to create SVG files for lasercutting
  • FreeCAD - 3D parametric modeller used to create my STL files for 3D printing or CNC cutting.
  • Blender - 3D modelling, used to import my STL files and create my concept videos.
  • Gimp - Image manipulation
  • Inkscape - Used to edit the SVG files created by LibreCAD and prepare them for the cutting process.

I have a list of some other useful software here.

Step 5: Conclusion

In short, 3D printing is no Fad but rather in my opinion is Fabulous, allowing anyone who wishes to, to engage in the exciting world of Makers; trying out ideas and realising solutions.