Prusa Research’s Design Contest Reveals Potential for 3D Printed Spare Parts

By on October 25th, 2023 in Ideas, news

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Many people can apparently design replacement parts [Source: Fabbaloo / D3]

Prusa Research just concluded a design contest and there’s a surprising outcome.

We don’t normally cover design contests simply because there are too many of them and they’re just not newsworthy anymore. At least that’s usually the case. Not in this situation.

Printables Replacement Parts Contest

Prusa Research launched their design contest back in September, and it had the unusual focus topic of “replacement parts”. The idea was for entries to be 3D models of spare parts for specific consumer devices.

That’s a good idea, because we all have tons of such products, and they invariably break one way or another. Due to the lack of spare parts or high cost thereof, they are often unrepairable and thus you end up buying a new version, like it or not.

However, by having a printable spare part, these products can potentially be repaired. Just print the parts when required and fix it, something any 3D printer operator can do.

Prusa Research made the contest very specific. They wrote:

“While general replacement parts like ‘cabinet knobs’ or ‘replacement wheels’ are useful, their utility to others is significantly reduced without information about the specific product they were designed for. If you don’t include this information, we’ll unfortunately have to exclude your model from the winners selection.”

So it’s all about very specific replacement parts.

The contest just concluded, and as you might expect, there were countless interesting and useful entries. You can see all the winners at the link below, but I’m not going to focus on them.

Replacement Parts Contest Outcome

Top entries in the replacement part contest [Source: Prusa Research]

What I am going to focus on is the sheer number of entries. According to the contest page there were an astounding 3,576 entries.

Let’s think about that for a moment: over three thousand unique spare part designs. Designs for parts that exist in the private 3D model libraries of the product manufacturers, but are not accessible to the public. The contest turned the tables and made these part designs available to anyone. (It also added significantly to Prusa Research’s Printables service inventory.)

There’s not only a huge number of parts, but there obviously must be massive numbers of people ready, willing and able to design these parts.

Barriers to Consumer 3D Printing

Let’s back up a bit. There has long been a theory that if every home has a 3D printer, then spare parts can be produced on demand. That has never been true, first for practical reasons around material choice, but more recently because the part design are inaccessible.

Product manufacturers would prefer keeping the 3D models private so that they can encourage you to buy wholly new products or pay exorbitant fees for replacement parts that may or may not be offered.

Since most of the public is incapable of designing their own replacement parts, we haven’t reached that stage. It’s been one of the main barriers to general consumer use of 3D printers for over a decade now: the right content is not available.

A Replacement Parts Service?

Back to the Prusa Research contest. This event demonstrated clearly there is a massive community capability to produce useful designs for thousands of spare parts, and quickly.

I’m wondering if that capability, combined with recent increased interest in “right to repair” (including legislation in some jurisdictions) might trigger a new focus on commercial spare parts.

Imagine if this capability and these designs were organized a little differently. What if there was a site where the public could very easily search for the parts required to fix their specific product? I’m envisioning something similar to support sites from manufacturers where you specify the product name/model and get a list of spare parts you can order.

If such a thing existed, it would be immensely useful to the general public and almost certainly drive more sales of user-friendly 3D printers to make those parts.

It seems to me that we’re almost there: we seem to have most of the elements present, aside from the organization and presentation of the digitized spare parts: consumers will not want to wade through a general purpose 3D model repository trolling for their specific part. They need something more direct.

Could Prusa Research adapt Printables (or a new consumer-oriented companion site) to do this? Some other site? Technically it should not be too hard to do. My only concern would be that if this approach proved “too popular”, they might get busted by upset product manufacturers.

Or they might not. I think this is worthy of an experiment. Do you?

Via Prusa Research

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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