Repairing a Toy with 3D Printing

My daughter bought an inexpensive headlamp recently, and like many inexpensive toys, it broke within hours of purchase. She can’t wear it anymore because part of the buckle assembly snapped off and we managed to lose the broken piece before she could glue it back together.

Here’s the damage.

This is a perfect opportunity to fire up the MakerBot Replicator.

If you look carefully in the back of the photo you’ll see an AppleCore earbud wrap, which I highly recommend if you’ve got a bazillion small cables in your life. AppleCores are great stocking stuffers for geeks, BTW, and the holiday shopping season is nigh.

Moving on: let’s test one of my expectations about Living In The Future: in The Future, one will be able to repair broken household items quickly and easily using a 3D printer.

TL;DR version: we don’t live in The Future yet. But we’re getting there. This whole process took about an hour and a half of human-time.

The first step is to get a scan of the broken part. Scanning it with 123DCatch is probably too much hassle for what’s basically a flat object, so I put the headlamp down on a flatbed scanner and covered it with a few sheets of office paper and a black piece of cloth to keep too much light from getting in.

And then a little levels adjustment in Photoshop to bring out the contour I need for tracing. I’m going to add an entirely new backing to the headlamp instead of trying to replace just the broken bit.

I brought the photo into Maya, and traced the edges with NURBS curves. Next, extruded the poly surface, made sure the dimensions were correct, and exported to ReplicatorG. After 45 minutes of vertex wrangling I had this shape:

The slice and print went quickly. I glued the 3D printed part to the original with JB Weld.

(JB Weld also makes a great stocking stuffer for geeks. I once owned a ’92 Toyota Corolla [R.I.P. Felipe] that was 30% JB Weld by weight, not including the zip ties and the fuel door I machined out of an old PC case.)

Wait 24 hours to cure, and we’re done.

Totally functional, if not the most beautiful repair ever. I debated putting the STL for this up on Thingiverse, but this model is useful to exactly one person in the world so there’s not a lot of point in sharing it. If you must have one, email me or DM me.

Why We Don’t Live in The Future Just Yet: The barrier to entry on doing this at home is still pretty high for most people– computers and software are cheap, but the 3D printer required to do this hasn’t hit the sub-$300 range yet. Five years, maybe?

The technical skills for working in 3D aren’t too common yet either, but the easy availability of apps like SketchUp and TinkerCAD will take care of that in time.

BUT. I could see a service like this being offered at your local hardware store in The Future. Bring in your busted genechtagazoink and an eager nerdling will drop the part in a yellow, overbuilt scanner made by DeWalt, flop the geometry around in some yet-to-be-announced Autodesk product, and then print you a replacement part while you wait, sort of like the way house keys are copied now.

(If you ever meet me in person and want to start a good rant about legacy technology, ask me how I feel about house keys.)

Naturally, I found the broken-off piece this morning. Next to the fridge. Feh.

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