3D Scanning for 3D Printing Replacement Parts, the (Sometimes Harsh) Reality

There are a wealth of online services that offer low cost 3D printing and there are many low cost home 3D printers. Over the last few years we have received an increasing number of requests to scan and produce files for 3D printing replacement parts. Many people are looking to print replacements for parts that are no longer available, or extremely difficult to get, or are extremely expensive.

You can ask yourself some questions to determine if 3D scanning could work in your situation.

Will it be cost effective or Is it worth it to me?

Most people easily understand that spending more to create a replacement part than the value of the entire item the part goes in makes no sense. However, if there’s an emotional value tied to the object the part goes in, then someone may be willing to spend a greater amount to keep the item usable.

However, there is going to be a limit to the amount someone will spend no matter the emotional ties.

Am I prepared for an unknown total cost?

It is often necessary to produce test prints to ensure that any adjustments made to the print file will produce a usable part. Or, choosing a different print process and or material may be needed to produce a usable part. Many printing services have a minimum cost, so you may have to make adjustments and print multiple test prints at the minimum cost each time. This can quickly add up.

Can I modify the print file myself?

3D printed parts may not match the accuracy of the original part. 3D printing produces a dimensional variation that varies depending on the specific printer and material and increases with the size of the print. This means that the print file must be modified to get the proper fit for tight fitting or mating parts.

Additionally, the wall thickness of the original part may be below the minimum printable wall thickness of the printer. Again, this is specific to the printer and may need to be adjusted before printing.

If you don’t have the software and knowledge to modify the file yourself, you should be prepared to find someone that can do this at additional cost.

We cannot make these modifications ahead of time because we don’t have every model of printer and material available to make the test prints to guarantee that the file we give you will work. Nor can we test the print in your specific situation where the printed part will be used.

What if I can’t make a print that works?

As the title mentions “Harsh”, here is a potential reality … The printed result may not work, or it may not work withing a budget that your are willing to spend.

A 3D printed part will not be the same as the original part in many ways. As stated previously, the print accuracy is not the same as the original part. Additionally, the strength or other physical characteristics of the printed part may not match the original, which may cause it to fail. So even if you choose the same material for the print that is used in the original part, it still may not work.

If you cannot accept that you might end up going through a process that does not end in success within the amount you are willing to spend, 3D scanning and 3D printing replacement parts may not be a good option.

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