You may recall that back in December, I wrote about the challenges facing me and my beloved Corvette. I was in dire need of a relatively simple part – a tray that secures the engine computer had broken and I was at a loss finding a replacement for my vintage beauty. In my grief, I wondered out loud why there wasn’t anyone out there that did made-to-order parts using direct digital manufacturing or alternatively, if there were, why couldn’t I find them?
I received an outpouring of support; most responses sympathized with my plight and shared their own challenges of procuring outdated parts. How many people really need a window crank handle these days? But, alas, our readers couldn’t point me to anyone out there that could scan and build one-off parts as a service. There must be a need for this. I know there’s a need for this because I had a need for this.
It’s one thing when a car breaks down, when it throws a rod or you score a piston or something serious happens. But my noble steed was off the road because of a tray. And there was nothing I could do to fix it. The knowledge that spring’s coming early to DC loomed. Missing out on prime, top-down, cherry-blossom convertible season because of a tray? It was heartbreaking.
Enter Stratasys, Inc.
Stratasys, located in Eden Prairie, MN is a builder of 3D printing machines that use additive manufacturing technology to build functional prototypes and production parts layer-by-layer using industrial-grade thermoplastics.
Noah Zehringer, a Senior Application Engineer at Stratasys, reached out to save the day: while their AE team doesn’t offer a reverse engineering service per se, they often help customers with engineering challenges. To my delight, their machines are able to accommodate almost any size, geometry or complexity in printing parts. Noah asked that I send him the broken part and he would see what could be done.
Back at the lab, they redesigned the part in 3D CAD software to create a printable file. Then they sent the file to their Fortus 400mc 3D Production System. In just a few hours, my tray was complete, built in Ultem, a material with high resistance to heat and chemicals, plus high tensile and flexural strength – perfect for what I needed – a custom-made part with no tooling, no machining, no hassles. My heroes.
I don’t particularly enjoy the whole “damsel in distress” role this broken part for my beloved chariot put me in. But honestly? I am not ashamed to say that Stratasys, and particularly Noah, came to my rescue – my Knights in shining (3D Printed) armor. Were it not for this talented team and their state-of-the-art technology in direct digital manufacturing, I would still be trapped in the tower rather than enjoying the purr of my classic piece of American history.