when I first started on my team, one of the many things that fascinated me was 3D Printing. The concept of additive manufacturing opens up a world of new possibilities for designing and creating intricate parts, but are they useful in FRC?
I would argue yes (though that may be somewhat biased, as I own a 3D Printer), but I’ve heard many argue against it. my reasons for why it’s useful are as follows (In Relation to Fused-Deposition Modeling only):
In recent years, material choice has expanded hugely, ballooning from just PLA and ABS, to HTPLA, Carbon Fibre, Flexible materials, HIPS, Nylon, PETG, metal fill… etc.
People often assume that 3D printed parts are too weak or too brittle. largely this is a myth sprouting from basic PLAs which are extremely brittle. Nylon, ABS, and PETG are all viable alternatives which are much stronger and more shock-resistant.
3D Printed parts offer shorter wait times than ordering parts from online retailers
printed parts are easily replaced when broken because they can be inexpensively replaced, and custom parts can be made easily, often in a shorter time period than if they were manufactured conventionally.
they can be used as quick and dirty spare parts in the event that an ordered part fails. (Team 2910 had several Rhino Track Pulleys printed out in case we had parts break during competition)
Obviously, I’m not advocating for printing things like motor mounts and chassis components, which are subject to incredibly high stresses during the game. But in the case of things such as custom sensor mounts, passive gears , and other relatively low stress positions, like turret ring-gears, printed parts can often be the way to go.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on printing parts, both for and against. My biggest issue on the subject is the 3D printing Phobia I see in many FIRST teams. I believe it has its uses and, when an option, should be exploited as a cheap and fast method of production.