3D printing is a big deal. It enables the average person to quickly whip up a fix for something around the house, a cool toy, some functional equipment for hobbies, or even rapidly prototype a new product for a business. You can see why it could easily become the next big appliance for homes and garages.
One area it’s bound to have a huge impact on is the car world. Over the past few weeks, my coworker Rob and I have been experimenting with 3D-printed accessories for the new Ford Maverick pickup with good results. I printed a heated/cooled cupholder. My partner Rob printed a dash cubby-mounted phone charger. (You all liked the charger most of all.) The implications of the stuff we designed go further than the parts themselves, though.
The point of our whole print-off wasn’t just so we could print some fun accessories. It was to explore the automotive potential of this now-commonplace technology in a vehicle built for makers. After having lived the life for roughly two weeks, we can confidently offer some tips for beginners looking to get into the hobby.
Before you embark on purchasing a 3D printer of any kind, even a very cheap one, you should really try to think about what you want to do with it. There are different types of printers, filaments, and resins beyond your wildest dreams—it can be overwhelming. When I started printing in high school, I didn’t have nearly as many options as hobbyists do today, and even trying to keep track of all the advancements today has been a lot for me.
Another thing is that, while the hobby doesn’t technically require computer-aided design skills, such proficiency is really necessary to design parts for your own use. When I got my first printer, I had no CAD skills. But I figured out pretty quickly that if I wanted to make stuff that would be useful to me personally, I needed to learn.
Luckily, there are a lot of options in terms of programs to use in order to design your own parts. Fusion360 is free for hobbyists and probably the most popular, but there is even web-based CAD software like TinkerCAD or OnShape that can provide the sorts of tools necessary to make custom odds and ends. I personally use Solidworks, which you either have to pay for or find some other way of obtaining. Keep in mind most CAD programs have free periods or student editions, so you can play around until you find one you like.
Be wary that many of these tools have rather steep learning curves. While TinkerCAD might be an easy way to jumpstart your 3D-printing journey, you’ll quickly find its limitations and end up venturing into Fusion360 or another piece of software. Don’t get overwhelmed, though, because plenty of great resources exist to learn 3D-modeling basics on YouTube, in Facebook groups, and elsewhere.
Types of Machines
Once you have some proficiency in a CAD program,