One of the promises of 3D printing is that the technology will someday help us to get product replacement parts quicker and less expensively. Imagine that you some dohicky broke on your dishwasher, or a clip that holds up a shelf in your refrigerator cracked. As it is now, you’ve got to call a repairman to identify and order the part (which could turn a one dollar part into a $200 part), or if you can figure out who to talk to at the company, you might be able to contact the manufacturer and order the part–if you can describe it and if it’s in stock. Aside from these kitchen appliance examples, think about all the other parts around your home or office that could require replacements at the most inconvenient times.
The revolution in how we obtain replacement parts is coming sooner than you think. In fact, it’s already here at a company called Teenage Engineering, who sells a very hip portable music synthesizer. While the OP-1 Synthesizer’s guts are electronic, there are knobs and other plastic parts that could conceivably require replacement. While the company could have a little side business of selling replacement parts for these non-electronic parts, they’ve much too cool (and smart) for that.
The company makes available to anyone, the CAD files for these plastic parts. If you have access to a 3D printer, you can download the files and print them yourself. But what if you don’t have a nearby 3D printer to use, like the majority of the population? Teenage Engineering has uploaded the parts files to 3D printing service Shapeways and you can order a print of the parts there. Pick the part you need and Shapeways will print it and send it to you in the mail. Will using a future-technology like Shapeways cost you an arm and a leg for the part? Nope. I don’t see any part that is over $4 on the page. It’s cheap to print small plastic parts at Shapeways and other similar services, and I would assume from the prices that Teenage Engineering is not even trying to make a profit off them.
Teenage Engineering has a page dedicated to the OP-1 Synthesizer replacement parts, and here’s their customer-friendly explanation of why and how they do it.
We work hard to make our OP-1 users happy with free OS updates and added functionality. But sometimes we fail. As some have noted, the shipping cost of the OP-1 accessories is very high. This is because we can’t find a good delivery service for small items. Meanwhile, we have decided to put all CAD files of the parts in our library section for you to download. The files are provided in both STEP and STL format. Just download the files and 3D print as many as you want. Next fail is the OP-1 manual update. We are almost there…we promise it will be ready sometime next week. Thank you all for your patience, we promise to work even harder in the future to make you happy.
– Teenage OP-1 “fail” Team
Look to see more and more companies beginning to offer the CAD files for product replacement parts in the near future. It makes so much sense on a so many levels. And just fromm a marketing point of view, I can tell you that if I had a company with which I could do this now, hell, I’d do it just for the ability to get on a blog like this one for the free publicity that first-movers get.
If you know of any other consumer product companies that are offering replacement part CAD files let me know.