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By Kyle Rankin

I had wanted a 3D printer years before I could justify getting one. Even a year before I bought a 3D printer, I was heavily researching the current crop of hobbyist printers for their capabilities and trolling Thingiverse for a solid list of useful things I could print that would make the printer earn its keep. At the time the list was sadly pretty small. Apart from bottle openers and a handful of other objects, it seemed like what most people did with their 3D printer was print out new parts for it.

Kyle’s Printrbot, fitted with a Thingiverse fan mount. He holds the original part for comparison.

It’s not easy to justify an $800-$2,000 machine because of all the great bottle openers and spare parts it could print for itself, but I had an ace in the hole. Our dishwasher had been half broken for over a year due to a faulty plastic part, and I knew if I had a 3D printer I could print out a replacement. I have a Frigidaire dishwasher that has three spray arms: one below the bottom rack, one between the bottom and top rack, and one suspended over the top rack. One fateful day, someone put a glass that was too tall into the top rack. The top spray arm hit the glass, wouldn’t move, and the extra pressure popped the arm off of this tiny circular plastic part it snapped into and rotated around. At first I was able to just snap the arm back on, but after a few loads it would pop back off again, and ultimately refused to stay on as the part and arm both wore down.

This is normally the place where you might call a dishwasher repair service and order a replacement part, but as a geek, I knew if I only had a 3D printer, I could print out a replacement part that was better than the original. I didn’t have a 3D printer yet, so in the meantime we just continued to wash dishes with two functioning spray arms — not ideal, but it sure beats washing by hand.

It was the Printrbot’s $550 price point that finally pushed me over the edge to 3D printer ownership. Before it came out, the cheapest complete 3D printer kit you could order was a RepRap Prusa kit for around $800 — just outside of what I was willing to pay. It turns out the Printrbot office is relatively close to the San Francisco Bay Area, so I was able to stop by there during a RepRap Meetup and get help assembling the bot from Brook Drumm himself. Once I got through the initial phase of calibrating the printer and printing random Thingiverse objects, I set my sights on my dishwasher.

Kyle’s son, Gideon, with a 3D-printed hedgehog, featured in MAKE’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. We used several of Kyle’s 3D-printed objects in the guide: a watering can spout, AA-to-C battery adapter, and giant baby keys toy.

The main obstacle I faced with fixing the dishwasher was my complete lack of CAD skills. Fortunately for me, at that time I worked for a company that not only employed engineers skilled in CAD, we actually had a commercial 3D printer at work. I talked to one engineer in particular about my Printrbot and he agreed to mock up a CAD drawing of my dishwasher part if I brought it in. It turns out it was a relatively simple part, because 10 minutes later he not only had an .stl file I could use, he had also improved where it snapped into the arm, to have a more snug fit.

That night I went to my printer and printed out a prototype part in PLA. While the part fit just fine, PLA just didn’t hold up to the temperatures inside the dishwasher, and after a load of dishes, the arm was sitting there in the top rack. Once I printed the part in ABS, though, it snapped right into place and survived multiple loads of dishes.

While I had the ABS hooked up, I went ahead and printed out four extra replacements, just in case. I’m glad I did, because after a couple of months the part finally wore out. Without a 3D printer I would be stuck with a broken dishwasher or ordering some $9 plastic hardware over the internet. Instead I can just snap in a 10 cent replacement and be on my way.


Kyle Rankin is a senior systems administrator and DevOps engineer, the author of DevOps Troubleshooting, The Official Ubuntu Server Book, Ubuntu Hacks, and Knoppix Hacks, among other books, and an award-winning columnist for Linux Journal magazine. He speaks frequently on open source software, including at SCaLE, OSCON, Linux World Expo, Penguicon, and a number of Linux users’ groups.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

  • 3D Printers Buyer's Guide — 15 Reviewed
  • Getting Started in 3D
  • Learn the Software Toolchain
  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

Buy now!

Just Released! 2014 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

Laura Cochrane

I’m an editor at MAKE and CRAFT. I like hiking, biking, and etymology.


Related

Comments

  1. Similar story; I bought an Ultimaker at the end of 2011 and, in the interim 12 months, have ended up with a house full of printed fixes and/or improvements to various things. http://www.thingiverse.com is often the source of these, but I’ve designed quite a few myself. Off the top of my head (some of these are mentioned in the Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing):

    - mag-lite flashlight wall mounts
    - new bottoms for various soap dispensers because the originals rusted
    - bottle cap for a Jack Daniels bottle
    - dimmer switch knob
    - microwave motorrotating plate coupler (PLA seems microwave safe in this context!)
    - lock handle for a friend’s sliding glass door ($75 new, $0.04 worth of PLA)
    - earrings
    - Christmas ornaments for the neighborhood ornament exchange
    - project cases
    - custom lego pieces for my son’s projects
    - tool and tool bit holders
    - wash cloth hooks for our shower
    - custom shaped end caps for shower bar that allow the glass door to clear the bar
    - scarf rings (that go on hooks) for my wife’s scarf collection

    As soon as I post this, I’ll remember a half dozen more. As Kyle says, the hardest part is often the CAD workflow. On the Mac, you can download Autodesk Inventor Fusion for free from the Mac App Store. It is a pretty fantastic tool. 123D Design is now available, too, and looks quite interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to play with it.

  2. Justin says:

    So in summary, spend $550 instead of $9 to fix your dishwasher. :) At least you can make other cool things with it.

  3. Alan S. Blue says:

    I’d like an open-source dishwasher. (And washer, dryer.)

    There just aren’t many particularly complex pieces involved.

  4. Tim says:

    Couldn’t you have bought a new dishwasher (that is probably quieter and more energy- and water-efficient) for about $400?

    1. Chris says:

      I personally would not buy a new dishwasher unless the old one was super inefficient – our “throw away” mentality is very bad for the environment.

  5. blastomite says:

    I’m in the same dilemma, both HVAC units in my condo have a 90$ US actuator.
    The actuator has multiple small plastic gears in it. The plastic gears, being plastic, break.
    So the official “fix” is to buy a new 90$ actuator + shipping costs.
    The gears are not exactly a “standard” size, there are shops in the area that have odds and ends but it seems quite difficult to find gears that match the size. It would be nice if I could just print off some new gears.

  6. Arnold says:

    That is way awesome!

    I have heard Blender (free, os) is a decent solid modeling tool but has a big learning curve. I plan to check it out soon. The CAD program I use lists for $250 and is pretty simple to use if you’re used to sketchup. I think it has all the functionality a hobbyist would need, it works for me. There are several up-and-coming open source CAD tools I plan to check out as well.

    Question, though- why didn’t you use the printer at work as well?

  7. [...] from Make: Kyle wrote a post for their blog titled A Printrbot Fixed My Dishwasher. It [...]

  8. Eric McCollum says:

    Next time, use a little super glue and glue the original plastic piece in place, I find it holds up for about a year on my Frigidaire dish washer, one tube cost at the most 4 bucks and will fix many other items as they break before it’s used up. And when it comes apart again, guess what, you can re-glue it for yet another year for about 4 bucks. I like the spirit, but the practicality is a bit off.
    EM
    Asheville, NC

  9. [...] the article A PrintrBot Fixed My Dishwasher, Facebook user Taylor House [...]

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